Indigenous midwife Ellen Blais inaugural recipient of Layton Indigenous Leadership Award

TORONTO — On May 11, 2022, at 1:00pm at the Native Canadian Centre, Indigenous midwife Ellen Blais will be awarded the inaugural Layton Indigenous Leadership Award.

“Ellen has been at the forefront of championing the reclamation of Indigenous midwifery. Deeply rooted in her own experience as a 60s scoop survivor, she envisions a future where Indigenous families have the best possible start in life, and where First Nations, Inuit and Metis people and communities are all able to access Indigenous midwifery. For too many generations government policies have suppressed Indigenous midwifery, inflicted violence and trauma, and denied families access to culturally specific and safe care, but Ellen has been working tirelessly to change that,” Sarah Cunningham, from Rama First Nation with roots in Brunswick House First Nation, and organizer with the Layton Legacy.

“Colonization and the medicalization of childbirth have shaped government policies and led to the removal of birth from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. Forcing pregnant people to travel great distances to give birth exposes them to systemic racism and isolates them from their circle of support and producing compromised reproductive health outcomes. As a result, there are many Indigenous communities that have not witnessed a birth in generations. Midwifery is fundamental to healing,” Ellen says. “I will receive this award on the land of my people, the Haudenosaunee, with the community of midwives standing beside me.”

Ellen graduated from the Midwifery Education Program at Toronto Metropolitan University in 2007. Following her graduation, she worked at Native Child and Family services, developing policies and programs focused on keeping Indigenous mothers and parents and their infants and newborns together. She co-founded Seventh Generation Midwives of Toronto in 2006. She is a Board Member at the Indigenous-governed Toronto Birth Centre. She was the Indigenous health lead at the Ministry of Health; Toronto Central LHIN and co-developed the Toronto Indigenous Health Strategy. Since 2014, Ellen has led work at the Association of Ontario Midwives to reclaim, restore and de-colonize Indigenous midwifery.

“Through this award, we carry on Jack’s legacy by recognizing and supporting an Indigenous activist who is a powerful changemaker. One of Jack’s true hopes was that we would all continue to work towards true reconciliation,” Olivia Chow, former MP and city councillor and widow of Jack Layton.

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