Ribbon cutting by MaLynda Maness-Henry and Amber Alton, Sr. Miss Aamjiwnaang.

By Colin Graf

SARNIA—Indigenous mothers and families in this area will be welcoming their new arrivals with a special closeness and comfort following the recent opening of an extra-large birthing room at the local hospital.

“Designed with Indigenous families in mind, the room features wood panelling, Indigenous art and a large sitting area to accommodate large families during the birth and afterwards,” said MaLynda Maness-Henry, coordinator with the Healthy Babies and Children program in Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

Joanne Culley, Healthy Babies nurse in Aamjiwnaang, feels that families will be able to spend more time together for the full birthing experience.

“[Families will be able] to sit and enjoy the birth of the baby and enjoy the time after together,” expressed Culley to a group of community members, hospital workers, and media at the opening ceremony.

Provisions are made in the room to allow for liquid smudging and cedar baths. Culley also noted that cedar is a natural antibiotic and also allows for families to give that cleansing and purity to the baby.

A moss bag on the wall reminds families to bring children up right, noted Culley.

“The new room will help bring more comfort and peace for families going through a birth,” said Mike Lapaine, CEO of Bluewater Health. “Family-centred care is all about the needs of all the communities we serve; not just the physical, but also the spiritual and cultural needs.”

The idea for the Indigenous birthing room came about when Sara Plain, director of Aamjiwnaang health services, spoke with Bluewater health’s patient navigator about improving relationships between the hospital and Indigenous people.

“It’s been a really good partnership,” added Culley, when describing the relationship between Aamjiwnaang and the hospital.

According to Maness-Henry, the hospital management was very welcoming when the idea of the birthing room was suggested.

“We are very excited and happy that they included our teaching and our culture,” exclaimed Maness-Henry. “First Nations families can request the room for their birth, but it’s not exclusively reserved for them.”

The First Nations room is one of eight new birthing rooms at the hospital being opened.

“This is just great,” said Aamjiwnaang Chief Joanne Rogers. “This is the kind of thing you can accomplish when you establish good relationships. When people from our community sit on different boards and committees, things like this are possible.”

In addition to having representation on a committee at the hospital, Aamjiwnaang also has members on the local Children’s Aid Society and on the Lambton-Kent District School Board.

“This is how we get our foot in the door,” stated Chief Rogers. “This is all under the umbrella of reconciliation.”