Midwives at Dakota Access Resistance Camps: We Can Decolonize, Respect Women & Mother Earth
Thousands of people have flocked from across the United States, Latin America and Canada to join the resistance camps opposing the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Most are Native Americans representing hundreds of tribes from across the Americas. The ongoing encampment is considered one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in decades. People have set up multiple kitchens, a school that teaches Lakota languages and other subjects, and medical services to care for the thousands who come to join the resistance to the pipeline. On Monday, a group of indigenous midwives posted online that the first baby was born in the camp. When Democracy Now! was in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, this weekend, we spoke with women and midwives about the importance of reproductive healthcare at the resistance camps.
AMY GOODMAN: We are just back from Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where thousands of people have flocked from across the United States, Latin America and Canada over the months to join the resistance camps opposing the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Most are Native Americans representing hundreds of tribes and First Nations from across the Americas. The ongoing encampment is considered to be one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in decades.
In the camps, people have set up multiple kitchens, a school that teaches Lakota languages and other subjects, medical services to care for the people who have come to resist the pipeline. And now it looks like there will be at least one more person to be taught and cared for at the camp. Just yesterday, a group of indigenous midwives posted online that the first baby was born in the camp.
Well, on Saturday at the main resistance camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, I spoke with women and midwives about the importance of reproductive healthcare at the resistance camps and on the reservation.
MELISSA ROSE: Melissa Rose.
CAROLINA REYES: Carolina Reyes.
YUWITA WIN: Yuwita Win.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what you have set up here at the resistance camp?
CAROLINA REYES: Yes. We’ve come with a group of women to be able to support women’s health here at the encampment. Sovereignty for indigenous people is only going to come about through the support of women and women’s health, in the same way that we defend and protect Mother Earth is the same way that we need to defend and protect women and the next generations of children being born. And that’s why not only is there a fully staffed and run, volunteer-run clinic here, that runs 24 hours, seven days a week, at the camp, but there’s also now going to be a women’s space, where traditional midwifery is going to be promoted and utilized to support the women here.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re a midwife?
CAROLINA REYES: I am.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Yuwita Win, you’re from Cheyenne River.
YUWITA WIN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How far is the reservation from here?
YUWITA WIN: I don’t know exactly the reservation line, but where I live is about two, two-and-a-half hours from here, because, you know, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River are connected, so—there’s a highway. I’m not sure what it is, but—
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what it means to you that there is this women’s health clinic, this midwifery clinic right on site.
YUWITA WIN: I believe—well, first of all, I want to say I’m speaking on behalf of the Wanbli Gleska Wiya Okolakichiye. And what we do is help in the community in healing the bonds between women and children, because, you know, the women are the backbone of the communities and the families. So, it’s very important to us that these healings take place, because it has an effect on our children. And having the midwives come back and us performing the ceremonies that needed to be performed, from the point of conception until birth and even after birth, is very important for the spiritual connectedness of our children with our families. And because we’re not doing that, we see so many of our children that are lost to drugs and alcohol and violence and suicide. So, by making these healing connections and performing these ceremonies and having the families involved in the births, I think that is very important for our people, not only mentally, but spiritually. And having that here at the camp is, I think, really going to be powerful for the women that are here.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens to women who give birth in Cheyenne River?
YUWITA WIN: Right now we have one doctor that comes from Pierre, and he schedules the women’s births based on his schedule and induces them. So, I would say like at least 90 percent of the women in Cheyenne River who have babies are scheduled on his schedule. And that’s not—it’s not right for our children to be born that way.
AMY GOODMAN: How did that happen? So they don’t go into labor at home and then, when they’re ready, come to the clinic or the hospital?
YUWITA WIN: If they—if they do not have their baby based on whatever due date he gives them, then he’s—and I’ve even had other personal family members that I have who said, "OK, well, it’s my due date, but he wants to have me come in early to schedule a birth." So then, you know, based on his schedule, he schedules them. They go in, they get induced, and then they’re out the door. So it’s almost like they’re running cattle through, you know, the IHS. And it’s not right.
AMY GOODMAN: Melissa, what does it mean to be a Native midwife?
MELISSA ROSE: We were discussing this earlier. And it is—there are ties, traditional ties, to the women who take care of women in the tribe and that take care of the children, and they have a lifetime tie to those children. And it’s very important that they grow up with those ties and that they are always connected to their home and their home place and their family. And that’s what it means.
AMY GOODMAN: And where do you live?
MELISSA ROSE: I live in Colorado Springs now.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has it meant for you to come to this camp? And why did you come here?
MELISSA ROSE: My family is here. My relatives are here. They’re fighting a really hard fight, and I have skills to offer them that’s very much needed here. And we found out, even after I got here, how much more it was needed than we even knew.
AMY GOODMAN: And what nation are you with?
MELISSA ROSE: Akwesasne Mohawk.
AMY GOODMAN: The battle against the pipeline, why is that a battle that matters to you in Colorado Springs?
MELISSA ROSE: I’m downriver. We’re all downriver at some point. We’re all ground zero. Everyone on the planet is on ground zero somewhere. And our first home is water. And I’m very intimately connected with that. And I think that’s why we’re all connected here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the clinic you’re setting up here goes beyond midwifery.
CAROLINA REYES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: It is a women’s space.
CAROLINA REYES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what your plans are.
CAROLINA REYES: Yes. Well, Amy, the roots of this is—actually goes back to, you know, the recent history of healthcare for birth for indigenous women in North America, in this country, in particular, where, for instance, Indian Health Services had a policy of forcibly sterilizing indigenous women. From 1973 to 1976, more than 3,000 women were forcibly sterilized, even women under the age of 21. And so, that decreased in—between the 1970s and 1980s, that decreased the birth rate for Native population in the United States of America from 3.8 percent to 1.8 percent. So that is genocide. And that cannot continue to happen. That is genocide of indigenous women, and just the same way that this pipeline is the genocide of our Mother Earth, and it’s the genocide of the river and the water that feeds us all, that nourishes us all, just as it did in the womb.
So, that is why we’re doing this here to support the women, to come back from that colonization. You know, right now Native women—this space, in particular, creates the potential, the possibility, that women—that we can decolonize, not just through birth, but really come back to a place of matriarchy and respecting women in a way that we can also respect Mother Earth and not lay pipelines in her, not dig out her liver, her coal, just as they’re doing in Black Mesa, Big Mountain, Sovereign Dine Nation, just as they’re doing all across the world and across the globe.
And right now we’re here, but everywhere people are, in your home communities, find out who the Native folks are there that are living there. Find out what they’re battling. Find out what the battles are and how you can support them, because they are doing it for all of us, for all future generations, for all the babies to come. We need this water. We need this Earth to be healthy, to be beautiful for them to live in. I come from occupied Tohono O’odham land in so-called Tucson now, and there is a copper mine that’s trying to take away—to take a sacred land from the Apache there called Oak Flat. So I’ve been involved in that issue, as well. I mean, everywhere we come from, those battles are there. So I want to make that connection for folks at home to look around you and to find the Native people around you and the battles that they’re fighting for. If you can’t come here, support them there.
AMY GOODMAN: Midwives Carolina Reyes and Melissa Rose, as well as Yuwita Win from Cheyenne River Reservation.