At the base of the Cascade Mountains, in the heart of the Yakama Nation, lives a young woman with an aspiration for her people to heal from the historic trauma of colonization. Leslie Swan is a language learner, a teacher, a doula, an auntie, a sister, a mother, a community seamstress and a friend. Leslie is a lot of things to a lot of people in her community. She believes that healing for her people can begin with the youngest, the babies, the children. This belief inspires her work as a birth justice advocate. She works alongside mothers through the life stages, supporting pre and postnatal healthcare. She has dreams of restoring indigenous birth practices that include the traditional knowledge of her people.
“The Ttáwaxt Birth Justice Center believe that Indigenous birth justice is present when indigenous peoples honor their ancestors by making the best decisions they can during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and after the baby arrives to ensure the next generation continues.”
At the center, Leslie brings in cultural teachings. She is working to change the stigma to seek prenatal care. She believes traditional teachings and a support system will reduce infant and maternal mortality. The center has expanded to a network of five different tribes statewide.
In Leslie’s community role, she is a traditional food gatherer for her longhouse and family. She is often called upon to sew for ceremonial purposes, and she makes regalia and moccasins. Leslie says her greatest skill and duty is making baby boards and moccasins for new babies. She is sharing this knowledge and skill in her work as a birth justice advocate and doula for families.
She calls it an honor.
When Leslie was in college, she took language classes from Levina Wilkins. She credits Levina with teaching her to read, write, and speak her language. The two of them developed a strong and good relationships. Leslie says, “Our paths crossed for a reason. I am meant to work with her, and she is meant to teach me.” Leslie and Levina will bring their teaching to the Ttáwaxt Birth Justice Center, where their care and commitment will embrace mothers to be, young children, and families. Their work together will help Leslie realize her aspiration for her people.