May 14, 2016

To: BirthKeeper and BirthKeeper Summit.

As Indigenous women who identify with the practice and term BirthKeeper, and the use of this term as initiated and defined by Jeannine Parvati Baker, we are compelled to acknowledge the trademarking of the term BirthKeeper and the implications of this for practicing BirthKeepers worldwide. Of special concern, are BirthKeepers reliant on the term, concept, and vision of BirthKeeping and the people and communities who carry the vision and practice of Birth Keeping into the future that may now face legal ramifications for using the trademarked term. We request that BirthKeeper, as a trademarked organization, release a statement of commitment to all Birth Keepers, past, present and future, that the term will indefinitely remain (as long as the wind blows and the rain falls) available to all who identify, utilize, and are dependent upon the term and practice.

In the words of birth attendant Krista Arias:

“As a traditional Xicana Indigena birth-attendant, who is consciously unlicensed and therefore banned from using the term midwife in referring to myself, I find the trademarking of the Indigenous rooted term, “Birthkeeper” troublesome. Not only in relation to my personal use of the term, but also in relation to the use of unaccountable (stolen) knowledge. Jeannine Parvati Baker has written publicly that she coined the term Birth Keeper from the marriage of “Earth Keeper and Birth. Earth Keeper is a Native American Word for Eco-activists as well as holders of the sacred Earth-based wisdoms” (Jeannine Parvati Baker). Given that Jeannine herself claimed Indigenous ancestry, that her father was himself “reservation raised” (Wikipedia), and that the term is so closely related to a particular Indigenous way of knowing/being, I feel it is important for those holding the current BirthKeeper trademark to pause and get “right” with Indigenous people, with those who currently use the term, and with themselves.”

Our request for a statement of commitment on BirthKeeper’s website and literature would also make clear that traditional BirthKeepers who utilized the term will remain free from harm of any kind, particularly legal, in carrying forward this practice. We further request that Birthkeeper publicly state and recognized that the term BirthKeeper is a concept, practice, and term rooted in indigenous knowledge and that by its trademarking has now been taken out of its indigenous knowledge context, but nonetheless remains, at its root, an Indigenous way of knowing and birth practice. We ask that this statement of commitment be released and maintained as an addendum to BirthKeeper, BirthKeeper Summit, and the BirthKeeper vision in perpetuity.

We also suggest that the organization & Summit consult with the Indigenous earth activists who use the term to consult and negotiate on permission and use of the BirthKeeper term with respect to the evolution of its meaning as it moves forward within a predominantly white feminist/midwifery movement.

In honor of the return to respectful ways of birth and Indigenous knowledge that we all envision,

Krista Arias  (Xicana Indigena)
Barbara Bain  (Shasta Indian Nation)