Luce Fellow Spotlight: Dorene Day

“[The Luce Indigenous Knowledge] Fellowship allowed me to work on projects that I’ve been dreaming about for the past ten or fifteen years,” says Dorene Day. “It allowed me to focus more attention on my work and create more opportunities for Indigenous women.”

Dorene Day (Anishinabe Ojibway) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows. She is a Midewanniquay or Water Line Woman, who vows to take care of the water, and sings to the water every day. She is also a midwife, educator, activist, artist, and writer.

In 2020, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), in partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation (Luce), awarded ten $50,000 fellowships to support Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers dedicated to creating positive community change. The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is a 12-month, self-directed enrichment program that provides fellows with the funding and connections necessary to maximize their potential and spark significant innovation and transformation in their communities.

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow: DORENE DAY


Dorene poses with her daughter Alexa and baby Makwa

Dorene Day with her daughter Alexa Rae Day and baby Makwa.

Dorene Day (Anishinabe Ojibway) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows. She is a Midewanniquay or Water Line Woman, who vows to take care of the water, and sings to the water every day. She is also a midwife, educator, activist, artist, and writer.


Day has dedicated her life to reclaiming traditional birth and healing practices. She is an independent consultant who works in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area to meet the cultural and ceremonial needs of her community. For more than 40 years, she has served her community as a midwife.


In addition to delivering babies, Day also provides traditional teachings and works on several community healing initiatives. She has hosted countless workshops and classes on Anishinabe pregnancy, birth teachings, healing ceremonies, and other women’s ceremonies for the life cycle.


Indigenous midwife Dorene Day tending to Desmond Mandera and Beedoskah Stonefish.

Over the years, Day has worked as a cultural consultant for several tribes and tribal entities, including the White Earth Nation, Little Earth of United Tribes, Native American Community Clinic, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, and the Minnesota Indian Health Board, to name a few. As an independent consultant, Day says she has always had to “hustle” to support herself with other jobs to fund her midwifery work.


In 2020, the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship allowed Day to support herself to focus more attention on teaching. During the fellowship period, she mentored and trained more young women in midwifery and developed a new curriculum to meet the demands for traditional birth teaching. This includes a prenatal birthing game, calendar, and lullabies.


“This fellowship allowed me to work on projects that I’ve been dreaming about for the past ten or fifteen years,” says Day. “It allowed me to focus more attention on my work and create more opportunities for Indigenous women.”


Community Background and Impact


Day carries the name Waubanewquay. She is enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota. She is Midewiwin and Lead Woman singer for Center Fire in the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge.


The Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge welcomes all Anishinaabe seeking spiritual truth, knowledge, and healing through sacred Anishinaabe lifeways. Day has participated in ceremonies at the Midewiwin lodge four times a year for more than thirty years. These spiritual teachings are the foundation of all of Day’s birth and healing practices.


“The Anishinabe-Ojibway value our teachings of Grandmother Moon,” says Day. “We value her wisdom of caring for our earth and our cycles. Our grandmothers knew that birth ceremony. They knew that our children came from the spirit world to live in the physical life and world. We know that it is possible again.”


Shortly after graduating from high school, Day began midwifery training with Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook through Minnesota’s Women’s Dance Health Project. After training with Cook, Day started her spiritual training with the Grandmothers’ Society at the Midewiwin Lodge. These teachings are based upon the Anishinabe-Ojibway creation story.


“The Grandmothers’ Society taught me which parts of the spiritual teachings I can share and which parts I can’t,” says Day. “Because I am a midwife, they allow me to teach certain aspects of the creation story because it is the basis of our birth teachings, but not just anybody is allowed to share those teachings outside the community.”


Day’s granddaughter Viva Wilkins in an Indian swing.

Day’s vision for her community is to reclaim Indigenous birthing practices and increase traditional knowledge of female lifeways. She firmly believes that restoring traditional birthing practices is an essential first step to community healing and overcoming centuries of intergenerational trauma.


Reclaiming Traditional Birth and Healing Practices


After learning traditional birthing practices and ceremonies, Day now shares her knowledge with many other Indigenous women across the U.S and Canada. She says: “I’m driven to create opportunities for Indigenous women to learn about our creation stories and evident truth. I want to show women how retelling that creation story brings us closer to our ways of knowing and positively affects the births of our children and our healing.”


According to Day, Indigenous women have an exciting new movement to reclaim traditional birthing knowledge and female lifeways. Although Day is eager to share this knowledge, she also recognizes that she must share these teachings and practices respectfully and in culturally appropriate ways.


“Traditional birthing and midwifery are not for everyone,” says Day. “It’s Indigenous knowledge. It is sacred, and we have to protect it.”


Artwork and poem by Dorene Day on traditional birthing practices.

Over the years, Day has experimented with different approaches for sharing this knowledge. Initially, she tried sharing this knowledge in academic and community settings with large groups of people. However, she quickly realized that she should work in smaller settings with individuals one-on-one to protect and preserve this sacred knowledge.


Instead of “reinventing the wheel,” Day decided to use the same format used to teach her and a small cohort of women. According to Day, she and the four other women mentored by Cook remain close today. She says: “I’ve midwifed their children. They’ve midwifed my children, and now we’re moving onto our grandchildren.”


Day wants to recreate a similar experience for five other young Indigenous women. According to Day, her new “birth crew” has already been trained as doulas. She is now working with them to merge traditional Indigenous knowledge and spiritual beliefs into their birthing practices.


“I am confident that these five women will carry these practices on in a good way,” says Day. “What’s really exciting is that these five women will learn everything I know, and then eventually they will be able to train others.”


Tradition and Technology


Day’s “birth crew” met once in person before COVID-19 restrictions were imposed in March 2020. Since then, the group has met virtually on Zoom every week. They will continue to meet every week for the next two years. Like many people, Day admits that this technological shift was initially challenging.


However, she also acknowledges that there have been some advantages to moving online. For instance, Day no longer must travel back and forth between communities, relocating every few years to share her knowledge in person. She has since learned how to use this technology to share traditional birthing knowledge in new and creative ways. 


For example, Day recently hosted a Zoom roundtable discussion on traditional birthing practices and healing. She and “her birth crew” also plan to start using TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service, to play Day’s innovative prenatal game titled “Before You Were Born.” Each day, they will use TikTok to record a new video that shares an important cultural lesson.


Day praises these five young women for their deep cultural and spiritual commitment to midwifery. She is proud of them for preserving and protecting traditional birth and healing knowledge and impressed by their ability to respectfully and responsibly share these traditions using new technology and storytelling methods. “These women are phenomenal,” says Day.


During the fellowship period, Day says she accomplished more than she ever imagined. In addition to developing a new birthing game, Day also started working on a birthing calendar and recording Anishinabe-Ojibway lullabies. Additionally, she recently presented on traditional birth practices and midwifery at the Association of American Indian Physicians Conference and has been collaborating and developing a new cultural safety curriculum for Frontier Nursing University’s Midwifery School.


“This work is an accumulation of years of learning and practice of our traditional birthing and ceremonies,” says Day. “It’s an important part of reclaiming our roles as women and female lifeways.”


Words of Gratitude


Like many Indigenous knowledge holders, Day is one of only a handful of cultural practitioners or spiritual leaders in her community. “I’d never met so many other individuals who are also among the last [people] practicing their craft,” Day observes. “I’d always felt really alone in my work. It has been really wonderful to feel supported for what you do and what you know.”


The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is intended to help Indigenous knowledge holders overcome cultural isolation and build lasting networks with other Indigenous knowledge holders. Day says, “I respect the work of the Luce Foundation and the Luce Indigenous Fellowship, especially the Knowledge Keeper Fellows. Miigwech for carrying it forward to our nations.”


The Luce Fellowship provides Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers with mutual support and understanding. Day says she is grateful and happy to have met all the other fellows, who have become like family, and whom she intends to stay connected to after the fellowship has ended.


“I want to wholeheartedly thank the Luce Foundation, First Nations Development Institute for creating this space,” says Day. “I’ve enjoyed meeting all of the fellows and learning more about their sincere commitment to their communities. They are a beautiful, dedicated group of people. I’m honored to be on this journey with them. Wewenni~ Miigwech!”