Elders Mentoring Program strengthens community for Maskwacis’ expectant mothers

ENRICH Elders Mentoring Program

Richard Oster
With the support of a seed grant from WCHRI, research associate Richard Oster embarked nearly five years ago on exploring how the ENRICH program he’s part of could best serve an Indigenous community. Managed by an interdisciplinary team dedicated to improving women’s health in pregnancy and postpartum, ENRICH takes a broad, sweeping approach to improving pregnancy outcomes.
 
“A lot of research about Indigenous communities is focused on the deficits … we wanted to promote resilience, opportunity and positivity … and utilize the strengths within the community,” said Oster. After close to 18 months of close consultation with the four First Nations bands that comprise Maskwacis, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, the Elders Mentoring Program was born, designed to support pregnant moms and dads in the community.
 
Muriel Lee is one of three Elders currently in the program. Since December 2015, Tuesdays and Thursdays find her in the waiting room of the Wetaskiwin Primary Care Network office, ready to lend a listening ear, pass on cultural knowledge–such as how to make the traditional moss bag for swaddling a baby–and even teach Cree to the expectant moms coming for their checkups. “We’re there to empower them and give them a safe place to talk to someone they trust, someone from their community,” said Lee. “We teach them how to take care of their babies, so the transition from womb to world is as smooth and loving and gentle as possible.”
 
This support has had a powerful impact, said Oster. One 16-year-old shared with him the pain of being judged during her pregnancy. “The only person in her entire pregnancy that didn’t judge her was the Elder she met through this program.” Participation brings meaning to the Elders’ lives, as well. “I feel very blessed to be among the women who are bringing life into the community … and to give to my people,” said Lee.
 
What does the future hold for this ENRICH program? “We have lots of plans,” said Oster, who would like to see the original program continue, an offshoot for postpartum moms and more support for fathers. “It’s working well and we need to fund it.”
 
The ENRICH Elders Mentoring Program has received funding from generous supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women through WCHRI.
 
Lois Hole Hospital for Women