The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) expects to have its first two birth workers hired within the next month.
Plans for the Yukon First Nations Birth Worker program were highlighted during a July 27 press conference where CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston was joined by federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu and territorial Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers was also on-hand to outline plans for the program.
With $200,000 in funding from the federal government, the program will see pre- and postnatal care provided along with training for Yukon First Nations for more birth workers.
“We will have two positions dedicated here for Yukon First Nations women and families to access birth workers to provide support both pre- and postnatally,” Chambers said. “We know right now there is a gap in culturally appropriate supports and services for prenatal and postnatal services.”
CYFN is partnering with a birth worker program in Manitoba for all Yukon First Nations to receive birth worker training.
Both Chambers and Johnston emphasized the importance of revitalizing birth practices that were underground for many years.
“What we’re really trying to do is support that through networking revitalization and reclaiming,” she said.
“What we are going to be doing is offering training to all 14 Yukon First Nations. They will bring their staff in to do the training (that) will create a network, build capacity, and then the Yukon First Nations will offer that birth worker training in their communities.”
Johnston said the creation of the new program in the Yukon could be a model for other regions.
Meanwhile, Hajdu pointed to work done by the federal government in attempt to eliminate racism in the health-care system following the 2020 death of Joyce Echaquan, a First Nations woman who died in hospital where staff were seen making racist remarks to her. A coroner’s report concluded racism and prejudice contributed to her death.
Hajdu noted national dialogues were held with numerous Indigenous groups and medical experts throughout the country about racism in the health-care system, with many sharing their stories. The government recommitted to building a health-care system that eliminates racism and discrimination, she said.
“So today is actually an example of that commitment and action towards eliminating racism in health care,” she said. “It’s a really powerful, powerful program, because it actually addresses a particular nexus in accessing health care for women that is really a vulnerable space, and that’s when women are giving birth.”
Along with highlighting the birth worker program, officials also pointed to work that will ensure menstrual products are available to Yukon First Nations women, girls and those in the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community.
Under that initiative the federal government is contributing $525,000 to CYFN to the work, with another $100,000 coming from the Yukon government.
The efforts have already seen products sent to First Nations throughout the territory and will also see products available in schools.
“As you’ve heard the implementation of the project has already started in relation to the work of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the department of Education is beginning to work to install bathroom cabinets for free period products in our schools,” McPhee said.
Both Hajdu and Johnston argued free period products should be available in public washrooms, with Hajdu comparing it to having toilet paper available. Johnston also stated his view that both menstrual products, as well as contraceptives, should be provided and easily available.
Hajdu noted the funding provided to CYFN to provide menstrual products — which is part of a larger $2.5 million commitment by the federal government to increase access to menstrual products for Indigenous students in the North — is an important first step in making menstrual products more widely available for all.
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