She Walks With Me - Indigenous Doula Research

About the Project

She Walks With Me: Supporting Urban Indigenous Expectant Mothers Through Culturally-Based Doulas is five-year project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and based at The University of Winnipeg. 


Disparities in maternal wellness in Canada are intertwined with colonization, which has created deeply rooted inequalities in socioeconomic status and health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Indigenous doulas, who provide culturally appropriate support to Indigenous women during pregnancy, birth, and the post-partum period, are an effective intervention to address this disparity. Doulas maintain boundaries within the medical birthing experience and empower Indigenous women to create a positive experience for themselves. Furthermore, doulas extend their role of emotional support companion by connecting women to various social supports following the birth. The continuous presence of someone who will provide emotional support, comfort measures, advocacy, and information throughout labour is associated with positive outcomes for both the client and baby. 


The proposed project responds to the social and cultural challenges experienced by a project on Indigenous doulas as a cultural intervention for Manitoban First Nations women traveling for birth and is focused on the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg. Our objectives are: (1) to develop a set of quantitative and qualitative research tools that are responsive to the partners’ needs for evidence and provides an opportunity for participants to share their experiences in a format that honours them as life givers; (2) to establish a model for urban Indigenous doula service delivery that places Indigenous communities and organizations at the centre and provides administrative, technical, cultural, and emotional support for Indigenous birth workers; (3) to develop an urban-focused Indigenous doula program that supports women currently residing in the city, as well as those temporarily relocating for birth; and (4) to develop and pilot a smartphone app for the delivery of ongoing education, inter-doula networking, and access to information to support the work of the doulas.


This project is in partnership with two Manitoban Indigenous organizations: the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba and the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre who have substantial expertise in Indigenous social services and healthcare delivery on-reserve and in the urban centre, as well as expertise in leading research projects that are community-driven and culturally responsive. We will be using a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques to meet our objectives.

Expected Outcomes

This project will develop a set of culturally appropriate research and training tools that are driven by the needs of the urban Indigenous community organizations and the populations they serve. Development of these tools will involve academics, students, and community partners, and generate dialogue on what it means to have self-determination in Indigenous health research. At the end of this project, we will have developed an Indigenous made-in-Winnipeg” model that will support a larger doula program pilot and research project. Other social benefits of this project include the bringing together of collaborators and partners to network for providing support to expectant Indigenous women and expanding the network regionally and internationally with other birth worker groups. Furthermore, we will develop a smartphone app that will be responsive to the needs of Manitoba doulas who are currently practicing, as well as those who will be involved in the research pilot.