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About the Indigenous Birthwork Training Program

Pregnancy and birthing have always occurred in our communities, since time immemorial. Northerners had and have medicines, methods, and practices of birthing. Today, related ideologies and practices are highly medicalized and deprived of ancestral and cultural knowledge of the ways of pregnancy and birthing.


Our intention in developing an Indigenous Birthwork Curriculum is to have relevant teachings that are reflective of all regions in the Northwest Territories and that recognize and include the cultures and traditions of all NWT Indigenous Nations. The program will be a full spectrum birthwork training, which includes how to support families through family planning, pregnancy, and all pregnancy outcomes (prenatal, postpartum, labour and birth, miscarriage, loss, and abortion) with a focus on traditional birthing practices according to northern regions. Our goal is that this training will be a stepping stone to Midwifery education in the North.

The training will put a specific focus on supporting birth workers and birthing people in their own healing journey. By embracing these foundational practices, we hope to contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous birthing practices and customs, recovery from trauma, colonization, and genocide, and the building of capacity in our own communities in the context of birthing and birthing support. 

This training will be informed and developed with community. Our methodology is a combination of diverse community engagement, sharing circles and conversation-based interviews. This approach involves intentional and ongoing relationship building, with emphasis on peoples’ experiences, stories, insights, and desired outcomes.

Our Curriculum Developers
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Ashley Ens

Ashley Rae Ens (she/her) is Nihtat Gwich’in born and raised in Inuvik NT along Nagwichoonjik known in English as the Mackenzie River. Her parents are Patrick James Bourque of Aklavik, NT and Shelley Rae Ens of Watrous, SK. Ashley has 15 years of public service experience which ranges from program management, program evaluation to employee training and development. She is currently living in Lethbridge, Alberta with her family (Hannah, Zakery, Rosie & JR) and is a PhD student at the University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies. 


Her research interests include understanding if efforts to Indigenize are effective, her belief is that it is critical that activities are evaluated regularly to better inform future planning and implementation. She is passionate about community driven research and advocates that the North, given its relatively small size and large Indigenous population, is particularly well suited to lead the development of an evaluative framework to analyze the impact of Indigenization. 


The development of the Indigenous Birthwork Training aligns with her values of advocating for community informed projects. She feels that Northerners are experiencing exciting times to provide leadership, innovation and change that is led by the North, for the North.

Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser (she/her) is Gwichyà Gwich'in (with English and Scottish heritage) from Inuvik and Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik, Northwest Territories. Her parents are Juliet Bullock and Bruce Fraser, and her maternal grandparents are Marka Bullock (Andre) and Richard Bullock. Crystal currently lives on Treaty 6/Métis territory in the Edmonton area, with her partner and two children.


Crystal is an Assistant Professor in History and Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Her award-winning research focuses on the history of student experiences at residential schools in the Inuvik Region and is under review for publication. This book, which focuses on the history of Grollier and Stringer Halls, is called By Strength, We Are Still Here. The title was selected by Elder Agnes Mitchell (of Tsiigehtchic and Edmonton) in Dinjii Zhuh Ginjik. Crystal serves on national and international committees: she is a member of the NCTR's Governing Circle, a director for Gwich'in Council International, and a founding member of the National Advisory Committee on Residential School Missing Children and Unmarked Graves in 2022. Crystal is also the Research Director for the project How I Survived, which focuses on working with Survivors and community about the history of sport and recreation and Indian day and residential schools in the NWT. 


In Crystal's free time, she enjoys living a healthy life, spending time with her family, traveling, visiting with Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and learning Dinjii Zhuh Ginjik.

Crystal Fraser

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Knowledge Keepers Advisory Committee

The Knowledge Keepers Advisory Committee advises on the development, implementation, and evaluation of the Indigenous Birthwork Training program and service delivery model. They also ensure that the training is culturally appropriate and holistic. Most importantly, they contribute to the traditional and spiritual foundation of Indigenous programming at the Northern Birthwork Collective.

Lesley Paulette

Indigenous Midwife

Beverly Hope

Indigenous on-the-land Wellness and Healing Facilitator

Ruth Wright

Gwich'in Elder and Traditional Birthworker 

Rosa Mantla

Tłįchǫ Elder

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Heather Heinrichs

Indigenous Midwife

November 2023 Update

Early in October, we hosted a regional meeting in partnership with Dehcho First Nations. This meeting prioritized building relationships with community members through sharing circles where we dove into topics relevant to the training curriculum. Throughout the rest of October and November, we continued to host sharing circles with Indigenous northerners. The intention of the sharing circles is to meaningfully connect with Indigenous mothers and birthing parents to hear their experiences of perinatal and reproductive care in the NWT. Their stories will help inform the content that will be in the IBT training modules.

Our next steps:

  • Continue to host sharing circles across NWT regions to hear diverse perspectives and voices for the training program

  • Outreach with other regional Indigenous governments across the NWT to explore partnership to create content for the IBT that is specific to their regional culture, traditions and needs

  • Indigenous Birthwork Training program hosted in the Dehcho in May in partnership with ekwi’7tl doula collective and Dehcho First Nations

  • IBT ambassadors program - an opportunity for aspiring Indigenous Birthworkers from the Dehcho training to join an initial cohort who will receive mentorship and help inform the development of the Northern IBT

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