A baby in a cradleboard. Photo: Larry Lamsa
'Love is in there too': Reviving tribal traditions for newborns
With a new report from the Center for American Progress highlighting the struggles facing Native mothers and their newborns, more communities are turning to tribal traditions for support.

Writing for Rewire.News, independent journalist Mary Annette Pember has more on the report, “American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal and Infant Mortality: Challenges and Opportunities,” and on places like the Mewinzha holistic care center that provides services for pregnant, birthing moms and their families in Minnesota:
“We stopped keeping statistics on the number of Native moms and babies that are lost in our region; it was just too upsetting,” said Millicent Simenson, co-founder of Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming.

In light of growing awareness of the negative impact of institutional racism on health for women of color, especially Black women, a new analysis argues the experience of Native American women closely parallels that of African American women. An emerging community-centered and culturally relevant response is offering families hope amid staggering rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Mewinzha is a Native American holistic care center for pregnant, birthing moms and their families in Bemidji, Minnesota. Simenson, of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, and her partner at Mewinzha, Roberta Decker of the Leech Lake Ojibwe tribe—both licensed nurses with extensive experience working in mainstream health care—offer childbirth, breastfeeding education, and doula training for both Native and non-Native people. They also serve as volunteer doulas as time permits.

“Even though we don’t get any referrals from mainstream health care, we continue to do the work because Native people are asking for it, and we think it helps,” Simenson said.

Released today, the analysis from the Center for American Progress, shared pre-publication exclusively with Rewire.News, includes data supporting Simenson’s observations. The analysis, titled “American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal and Infant Mortality: Challenges and Opportunities,” finds that official and ad hoc practices, including traditional Native concepts of community support, are playing a critical role in improving access to health-care services.

Although health and birth and death records notoriously underreport racial classifications for Native Americans, the available data is startling.

In 2015, mortality rates for American Indians and Alaska Native babies under the age of 1 was 8.3 per 1,000 births versus white non-Hispanic babies at 4.9 deaths per one thousand births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mortality rates declined for infants of all races except for American Indians.

Native American infants are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white infants to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and are 70 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white infants to die from accidental deaths before the age of 1. Data from the Urban Health Institute collected from the organizations’ 33 nationwide health-care locations found that maternal mortality rates for Native women was 4.5 times greater than non-Hispanic white women.

Read More on the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Amid Staggering Maternal and Infant Mortality Rates, Native Communities Revive Traditional Concepts of Support (Rewire.News July 9, 2018)

Get the Report:
American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal and Infant Mortality: Challenges and Opportunities (Center for American Progress July 2018)