Tribes in Washington State and Nationally Concerned About Maternal Mortality

Tribes in Washington State and Nationally Concerned About Maternal Mortality

by Cindy Gamble

In our Indigenous traditions, the creation of new life is a sacred act, to be respected and protected. This includes the time of a person’s pregnancy, and the first year of life and parenthood for the baby and parent respectively.

When we are unable to protect our mothers and babies, it is cause for great concern for our leaders and our communities. The rates of maternal mortality for American Indian and Alaska Native women, in Washington State and nationally, are creating a call to action.

In our state, the latest report of the Washington State Maternal Mortality Review Panel: Maternal Deaths 2014-2016 (the MMRP Report), reveals that American Indian and Alaska Native women have a maternal mortality rate that is 4.7 times higher than non-Hispanic Blacks, and 9.1 times higher than non-Hispanic Whites. This disparity is very alarming.

The Department of Health Maternal Mortality Review Panel (MMRP) staff presented the MMRP Report at a quarterly delegates meeting of the American Indian Health Commission (AIHC). After the presentation and discussion, the AIHC delegates had questions and concerns that they requested be addressed. This has resulted in a special project added to the AIHC Maternal and Infant Health (MIH) Project to determine the concerns and issues in our Tribal and Urban Indian communities that are impacting maternal health.

The National Indian Health Board is also concerned about American Indian and Alaska Native maternal mortality disparity issues. They recently partnered with the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health to develop tools to support Tribes in addressing maternal mortality in their communities. AIHC is a partner in the NIHB maternal mortality work; hopefully the AIHC and the NIHB can learn from and support each other as we all learn how to better support our pregnant and parenting people.

If you would like more information about the AIHC maternal mortality listening sessions project, and/or the MIH Project and the work of the MIH Work Group, please contact Cindy Gamble at