Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Mohawk Midwife: Katsi Cook


Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa (Katsi--pronounced "Gudji") Cook

Katsi Cook (whose name means "She's picking up flowers") is a member of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk tribe, which is part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nation. She was born on the St. Regis Reservation in northern New York State and is a renowned and internationally respected voice on the impacts of the environment on women's reproductive health. She is best known for her work as an environmental activist for Mohawk mothers who are breastfeeding. She has been a 2014 speaker at the annual Bioneers Conference, was featured in the most recent issue of the internationally recognized resource on women's health, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and is a revered Elder in Indian Country.

Cook's perspective on midwifery comes from her Mohawk traditions. She says in a 2005 interview for the Smith College Voices of Feminism Oral History Project "for a midwife to be able to reflect on the multidimensional experience that birth is, it’s like [a] fire...her uterus is that fireplace, and her whole body is that fire that’s speaking to you at many different levels, not just what her blood pressure is and what’s the data for the chart, but the stories of her life."

An article from the Midwives Alliance "Advisory Council of Elders" page notes that Ms. Cook took up midwifery in 1977 following the Loon Lake Conference of the Six Nations, where control of reproduction was designated as a prerequisite to Native American sovereignty. In 1978, Ms. Cook attended the founding meeting of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), helped develop the Akwesasne Freedom School, and founded and directed the Women's Dance Health Program (funded by a grant from the Ms. Foundation).


Cook says "I see in my work in women’s health and midwifery, for example, natural, social circles that exist in our communities that are the repositories of [Indigenous] that the first job was to restore, was to feed, was to water, nurture our circles. And they were made up of women."

What brought Ms. Cook into the national spotlight, however, was her work with the Mohawk Mother's Milk Monitoring Project that she started in 1984. When concerns arose among Native women on the NY reservation about the safety of breastfeeding, Cook began monitoring PCB levels in breast milk. Akwesasne is one of the most severely polluted Native American communities in the East.

Ms. Cook currently serves as program director for First Environment Collaborative at Running Strong for American Indian Youth. The Mohawk Elder says “Women are the first environment. We are an embodiment of our Mother Earth. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of the generations both to society and the natural world. With our bodies we nourish, sustain and create connected relationships and interdependence."

"In this way the Earth is our mother, our ancestors said. In this way, we as women are earth.”

To see a video of Cook speaking at the Bioneers conference, go to:



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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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