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Sask. First Nations mother says long child-care waitlists forced her to go against her cultural beliefs

Jessica Dieter was taught that a pregnant mother should wait until the child enters the physical world to celebrate the new life.

Jessica Dieter was taught a mother should wait until the baby arrives in the physical world

Jessica Dieter went against her cultural beliefs to put her unborn child on a childcare waitlist in her home town of Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask.

Jessica Dieter never had to worry about getting her older children into daycare once it was time to head back to work, but her most recent pregnancy was different.

Her friends and coworkers advised her to put her unborn child onto a daycare waitlist to make sure she got a spot, due to very high demand for child-care spaces. But for Deiter, to do so would go against her cultural beliefs.

Dieter lives in Fort Qu'Appelle with her husband Anton and 4 children, she is also an ELA teacher who goes back to work for the school year this week.

Dieter was taught by elders and others in her community of Okanese First Nation that a pregnant mother is a conduit between the spiritual world and the physical world, and an unborn child is a sacred being who is still with the Creator. Expectant mothers in the community are taught by Elders to wait until the child enters the physical world to celebrate the new life.

"That is a huge part of the teaching, is that when a mother is expecting and a mother is pregnant, and she is close to the spirit world and obviously the physical world, that we just don't know which way the baby is gonna go yet," she said.

"That's the reason why we prepare in certain ways and why we wait until the baby has their first breath."

Child care had been the last thing on Dieter's mind. She was just happy to learn she was pregnant with her fourth child. Then she started hearing from other mothers about how long they had to wait for their children to get into child-care spaces, sometimes beyond the end of their maternity leave periods.

Dieter was uncomfortable with it, but made the decision to put her child on a waitlist two weeks before her daughter was born

"In this world, this speedy world that we have to live in if we want to be successful and go to school and get a job and work, we have to follow these rules," Dieter said. "I don't believe that an Indigenous woman should [have to] go against her own cultural beliefs."

Dieter wants a policy under which babies can't be put on a waitlist until the day they are born.

Aside from the cultural beliefs, Dieter said she also thinks of parents who had no choice but to put their unborn baby on a waitlist, only to have that baby not make it to full term.

"You could fill out the paperwork, but their actual date should not be until they're born, because there's so many issues that go along with that, and not just for Indigenous women," she said. "Imagine being a daycare worker put in the position, and the guilt they're going to feel when they call them on finally getting a spot."

She said this would also reduce waitlists.

Dieter said mothers like her who choose to stick with their cultural beliefs will have to wait longer to get access to child care, due to waiting until their baby has entered this world.

She said her daughter has only moved up five spots, to number 18, since her birth on April 4, 2022.

Monica Pelletier is a new mother from Kahkewistahaw First Nation, near Broadview, Sask., but resides with her husband Saul in the town of Melville.

Pelletier and her husband decided to wait until their son Ronin was born before putting him on a child-care waitlist, despite being told by coworkers she should do so as soon as she could.

"I don't think that is that is right to put an unborn child on a waitlist, especially with, you know, our cultural beliefs of not doing things before baby is born."

That isn't the only thing she was told not to do while pregnant. Her mother told her to wait on having a baby shower or receiving gifts until he was born. She said after her baby was born, her parents went out and bought her everything Ronin needed.

Her mother also told her not to harvest meat that her husband Saul, a hunter, had brought home while she was pregnant. She said she didn't ask the reason why, she just listened to what she was told.

"Some of the things we may not know why they were, they were passed down and told to mothers. But I think it's important to keep the tradition going and to keep our cultural alive."

Some of her coworkers held a dinner for her when she was about to go on maternity leave, but refrained from giving gifts to follow the custom. Last week Pelletier and her son Ronin were invited to another dinner, where they received gifts.

Pelletier doesn't have to return to work until next summer. She said she is unsure of where she is on the waitlist, but is focusing right now on being a new mother.

The governments of Saskatchewan and Canada made a $1.1-billion agreement in 2021 to support early learning and child-care in Saskatchewan.

The agreement was part of the federal government's commitment to get child care costs down to an average of $10 per day.

Steven Compton, CEO of the YMCA of Regina, said it is a good thing for parents to be able to afford daycare, but that the promised lower costs drove more demand.

The YMCA currently has around 500 children in child care in Regina and another 254 in Moose Jaw.

Compton said the YMCA had waitlists before the national child care agreement, but they have grown since.

"At the $10 a day mark, you know, interest went up."

On Aug. 23. 2023, the YMCA of Regina announced it was suspending all child care waitlists until Nov. 30, 2023. Compton said the queues were so long that the YMCA didn't want to give parents false hope by putting them on a wait list.

"The number of available spaces that … we anticipate having as children age out of the facilities is only a small percentage of the people that are on the waitlist," he said. "We certainly don't want to disappoint families and create a false expectation in the community. And what we're hoping is that we can use this time to catch up."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Louise BigEagle

CBC Journalist

Louise is a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan since September 2022. She is Nakota/Cree from Ocean Man First Nations. She holds a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Regina.

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