Post-Colonial Existence and Practices
Indigenous culture is rich and intricate. While different tribes create and experience different customs and traditions, there are consistent, overarching ideas and motifs like water, healing properties of plants and herbs, life cycles, and storytelling. These cultural themes are prevalent throughout many practices relating to sex, partnerships, community, birth, and nature. In recent history, indigenous sexual health practices have adapted to respond to indigenous discrimination in the form of lack of access in remote areas, language services, racism in healthcare, culturally respectful healthcare, and stigma/shame.
Furthermore, indigenous sexual health practices must exist within the context of colonization and what it means to dismantle harmful colonial practices. For example, isolation and lack of access to healthcare have led to some of the highest rates of HIV among Indigenous women. According to CBC, this is largely due to “not having the right to access clean needles or harm reduction supplies because that’s often not provided on reserve or in rural or remote areas or access to testing.” Harmful systems that create unsafe physical environments also create unsafe social and personal environments.
In an article written by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, they explain: “We have the right to talk and share about our different cultures, spiritualities, teachings and the realities of our own communities when we talk about our bodies and that is certainly true in the context of health care and of healing practices. It also means that reclamation and restoration of this include addressing how colonization has impacted the cultures around our bodies.” Indigenous communities experience deep-seated, systemic oppression that becomes especially prominent in issues like sexual and reproductive health. Indigenous bodies can not be safe until systems that sexualize, isolate, violate, abandon, and disadvantage them are dismantled and rebuilt. Through reclamation and cultural practices, indigenous people are able to foster their relationships with the earth and their bodies in a post-colonial landscape.
Indigenous healthcare is executed with a deep connection to one’s body, mind, spirit, and earth. Tribes often use doulas rather than modern birthing models. Doulas, in many indigenous cultures, are modeled after the ‘auntie’ figure. In a report written by Carolyn Camilleri, she explains that “siblings of parents are aunts and uncles in colonial culture, but in Indigenous culture, they are second parents,” She continues to write: “Everyone older than you is an aunt or uncle or a grandmother or grandfather. The idea is that everyone is related … eventually.”
This idea of deeply personal connections is especially important to indigenous people during birth because tribes have very meaningful interpersonal connections with one another. The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) describes a doula as someone who “provides emotional, physical, and spiritual support for expectant mothers and their families during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.” This kind of support and guidance allows indigenous people to instill their beliefs and culture unto a child at birth. According to Dr. Jaime Cidro and Stephanie Sinclair, there are four predominant teachings from indigenous Grandmothers:
- Most critical years of instilling identity and pride = 0-5 Years.
- In order to achieve overall health and wellness, we must work together to restore the sacred bond between parents and their children from the moment they are born.
- Women have traditional roles – Women’s Helper, Auntie, Grandmother, birth workers, teachers.
- By revitalizing the Rites of Passage – we set our children on a path led by their Spirit.
These teachings are inherently communal, thus amplifying the necessity of strong community bonds and support from birth. All of these ideas play into the idea of the circle of life and cultivating sacred bonds between generations. Intergenerational connections are extremely important as indigenous communities build their social infrastructures. These customs also have a strong correlation to nature and the earth, Dr. Cidro states that “The first rights of passage begins with the flowing of sacred birth waters to bring new life,” once again adopting the motif of water and sacrament.
These motifs and themes continue throughout indigenous sexual practices. There are many very interesting instances of natural remedies in Indigenous sexual healthcare. Some tribes would use the fluff of Cattails in feminine hygiene products and diapers and creeping juniper berries were sometimes used as an early form of birth control. Indigenous people also often use natural personal lubricants such as aloe vera, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil.
Respecting Indigenous Culture
Indigenous culture is complex and intricate; detailed and ancient. It has an intensely rich history that permeates everything from belief systems to healthcare. Since there is no amount of second-hand information that could account for lived experience, for further information on indigenous sexual health, visit Minwaashin Lodge, Native Youth Sexual Health Network, First Nations Health Authority, or read books like Indigenous Women’s Health Book,
Within the Sacred Circle: Reproductive Rights, Environmental Health, Traditional Herbs, and Remedies or My People’s Blood: Indigenous Sexual Health Recovery. Then, consider spending a minute of your day evaluating your own privilege as it relates to sexual healthcare and thinking about how to further your education on indigenous history and its impact on present-day systemic oppression.