In one short year, Valentina McKay (BA/20) has managed to turn her education into action in incredible ways. She is a research associate in her hometown of Misipawistik Cree Nation (Grand Rapids) with the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (FNHSSM).
The FNHSSM is an advocate for health services for Indigenous communities in Manitoba. The organization supports initiatives and strategies to promote wellness in communities, such as mental health services, diabetes and traditional knowledge.
Valentina’s research focus is the impact of cultural, spiritual, and land-based connections on infant and community wellness. She recently completed the first stage of the project, which centred around finding wellness indicators. By conducting focus groups, themes emerged regarding the values and pillars that the community holds, consciously and unconsciously. “One of the most important findings was community life was identified as the central pillar that feeds into all other indicators” says Valentina.
Acknowledging that women are sacred in her community, Valentina also runs an expectant mother and doula program. She is currently working with 15 women who will give birth by September. She asserts that if the mother is taken care of before birth, the infant will be healthier. Valentina’s work includes following these mothers-to-be from now until their babies are home and settled. She also connects them with community doulas; birth helpers who are trained to assist and walk together with the expecting mothers. “These doulas are mothers themselves, who are busy taking care of their own families. Yet they find the strength to come into the office and take care of numerous other families” notes Valentina.
An extension of her work with mom’s-to-be has Valentina researching the re-establishment of traditional birth knowledge. Together with an advisory circle, they are looking at establishing traditional ceremonies to grieve the loss of an infant and process the trauma. By summer Valentina hopes to have the teaching to perform the ceremony as she wants to help women heal and have space to process grief.
Valentina finds the work with expectant mothers so powerful that she is planning to go back to school to obtain a Bachelor of Midwifery at the University of Manitoba. She looks to a future where women can give birth in their community, rather than being sent to Winnipeg. She also talks about the dream of establishing a traditional birthing centre in Misipawistik Cree Nation. “We talk about healing over the next seven generations, but the healing must be here in this place, and now.”