Asdzáá Naadleehi (Changing Woman) in Navajo Culture represents the Mother figure, the figure that created her people, the Dine’. In Dine’ and other Native cultures, the woman is where you get your clan from, matrilineal. This care and respect for women’s roles at different life stages is one not often found in modern-day medicine. But that is changing, and Albuquerque will soon be home to a Native woman-focused health center.
Nicolle Gonzales, Navajo, is the founder of Changing Woman’s Initiative. She began her journey to provide healthcare in 2017. “I founded it for the purpose and intention of providing culturally centered Native Indigenous birth services to our communities, as well as women’s health care.”
Gonzales’ prior work for over 17 years as a nurse and midwife allowed her to see the discrepancies firsthand. As she puts it, “I witnessed mistreatment, and just not appropriate care, for Native women within the IHS system. So, I wanted to create an organization that would support women in their communities, but also train women to be first workers like doulas, birth assistants, as well as bring resources for training around peer counseling or breastfeeding.” Gonzales wanted to address “the lack of information around maternal health for Native people, especially for our communities. And so I wanted to work on policy change, to address some of these areas in our communities.“
New Mexico’s IHS or Indian Health Service clinics have not provided live birth or prenatal care since 2007. Unfortunately, even though tribes have been able to take their IHS shares out and start clinics closer to home, often that money isn’t enough to cover all the needed resources.
Shayai Lucero, Laguna, is the board president of Changing Woman’s Initiative. She remembers being shocked at a health checkup as a young woman in college. “That’s really when I noticed how inadequate our healthcare was. As you know, it’s a close, tiny, rural town, Socorro, a tiny college town. But I had better healthcare with the provider there at the county clinic than I ever did at IHS before or after.”
This fall the organization decided to move south from its longtime Santa Fe location for the mean streets of Albuquerque. Here they can see more people from surrounding communities, and nurses also will not have to travel as far. Furthermore, serving the largest urban Native population in the state is key to spreading their message of empowerment in the form of healthcare.
As Gonzales states, doors are set to open Dec. 1. “We just moved into a new location, like, two weeks ago. It’s actually double the size. We’re going to have two clinic rooms, so I can see women for GYN care, birth control, constipation, IUD, insertion removal, STD testing and screening. And of course our birth services, we are incorporating a birth room in that space.” You can visit these awesome caregivers at 4133 Montgomery Blvd. NE in Albuquerque.