Canada's evacuation policy for pregnant First Nations women: Resignation, resilience, and resistance

Women Birth. 2018 Dec;31(6):479-488. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2018.01.009. Epub 2018 Feb 10.


Background: Aboriginal peoples in Canada are comprised of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Health care services for First Nations who live on rural and remote reserves are mostly provided by the Government of Canada through the federal department, Health Canada. One Health Canada policy, the evacuation policy, requires all First Nations women living on rural and remote reserves to leave their communities between 36 and 38 weeks gestational age and travel to urban centres to await labour and birth. Although there are a few First Nations communities in Canada that have re-established community birthing and Aboriginal midwifery is growing, most First Nations communities are still reliant on the evacuation policy for labour and birthing services. In one Canadian province, Manitoba, First Nations women are evacuated to The Pas, Thompson, or Winnipeg but most - including all women with high-risk pregnancies - go to Winnipeg.

Aim: To contribute scholarship that describes First Nations women's and community members' experiences and perspectives of Health Canada's evacuation policy in Manitoba.

Methods: Applying intersectional theory to data collected through 12 semi-structured interviews with seven women and five community members (four females, one male) in Manitoba who had experienced the evacuation policy. The data were analyzed thematically, which revealed three themes: resignation, resilience, and resistance.

Findings: The theme of resignation was epitomized by the quote, "Nobody has a choice." The ability to withstand and endure the evacuation policy despite poor or absent communication and loneliness informed of resilience. Resistance was demonstrated by women who questioned the necessity and requirement of evacuation for labour and birth. In one instance, resistance took the form of a planned homebirth with Aboriginal registered midwives.

Conclusion: There is a pressing need to improve the maternity care services that First Nations women receive when they are evacuated out of their communities, particularly when understood from the specific legal and constitutional position of First Nations women in Manitoba.

Keywords: Canada; Evacuation policy; First Nations; Health policy; Pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Delivery, Obstetric
  • Female
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services, Indigenous*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Inuit*
  • Male
  • Midwifery / methods*
  • Parturition / ethnology*
  • Politics
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women / ethnology
  • Pregnant Women / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Rural Population*
  • Young Adult