Decolonising Doulas

For most of human existence, we lived in earth-centric, matrilineal societies.

Then came the patriarchy and colonisation and industrialisation and I think we could pretty much find the root of every problem we face today in this shift. If we still lived in earth-centric, matrilineal societies I'm sure we wouldn't be experiencing climate change, loss of biodiversity, the gap between rich and poor, oppression of indigenous people, social isolation, wide-spread mental health challenges and more. I'm not saying life would be perfect, but it would certainly be more balanced.

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So how do we bring back more balance to our society?

The dictionary definition of decolonisation is "to free a colony from dependent status." In Australia, the broader decolonising journey can include treaty, changes to the constitution and using original place names or dual naming. Decolonisation is an ongoing process, not a single act.

But in order for decolonisation to work the conversation need to go so much deeper than that.

Colonisation brings with it deep, often unconscious beliefs that one culture and its values are inherently superior to another. The success of the British Empire was in its ability to perpetuate its own story of bringing civilisation to savages. If colonisation can normalise privilege and poverty, freedom and oppression, expertise and incompetence as an inherent reality that must be coped with, then the colonisers have won.

We can't achieve freedom from oppression unless we know it exists.

I'm sure if you know anything about our maternal health care system you can already see how many of these concepts are baked into the system from inception. And also how feminism and decolonisation work hand in hand.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lill Watson, Aboriginal Activist

We need to decolonise our education, health and government systems, including decolonising our work as doulas.

But first, we need to first decolonise our minds.

Both coloniser and colonised minds can be decolonised. I count myself as a coloniser even though neither I nor my ancestors were directly involved in the early settlement. As an Australian of European ancestry, I've benefitted from colonisation.

Here are some ideas for your own decolonising journey, this is obviously a very Australian list, but I'm sure it can give you ideas for where ever you live too.

  • Learn a language, and especially place names and names relating to motherhood and family. In Noongar, the word bilya means both river and umbilical cord to acknowledge them both as life-giving and vital.

  • Spend time on the country, especially with traditional custodians.

  • Watch The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream (get the tissues out!) Mystery Road also has some good exploration of decolonisation.

  • Listen to and actively seek the truth.

  • Make sure minority voices are heard when you facilitate groups.

  • Deeply consider cultural appropriation in your work.

  • Learn about the traditional birth and postpartum practises of the First Nations people where you live if they are happy to share.

Consider your education, media consumption, and upbringing. Question your beliefs and values and how they inform your work.

And as we decolonise our individual minds we can start to decolonise the systems too, including our work as doulas in the health system. The official statement from the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2019 is a really great place to start.

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