Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa "Katsi" (pronounced Gudji) Cook

Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa "Katsi" (pronounced Gudji) Cook

Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa "Katsi" (pronounced Gudji) Cook

Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa "Katsi" (pronounced Gudji) Cook is a member of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk tribe. She was born on the St. Regis Reservation in northern New York State, the youngest of the four children of Evelyn Kawennaien Mountour and William John Cook. Her mother was educated by Catholic nuns, and died when Cook was eleven years old; her father was a captain in the U.S. Marines and a World War II fighter pilot. Cook was delivered by her paternal grandmother who was also a midwife. She was educated at Catholic boarding schools, attended Skidmore College from 1970 to 1972, and then transferred into the first class of women accepted at Dartmouth College. Soon after, stirrings of the American Indian Movement (AIM) sparked a "generational call to consciousness" and she left school. She married Jose Eugenio Barreiro, a Cuban-born academic and indigenous activist, and the first of their five children was born in 1975. She and Barreiro worked with the Kanienkehaka Longhouse Council of Chiefs from 1972 to 1977 and from 1979 to 1983, where she helped write and produce Akwesasne Notes and toured the U.S. and Canada with the White Roots of Peace, a "communications group" that Cook describes as a traveling university through which participants learned Native knowledge and imparted it to others.

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 she undertook a midwifery apprenticeship at The Farm in Tennessee, followed by clinical training as a women's health specialist at the University of New Mexico. Cook lived briefly in South Dakota, where in 1978 she attended the founding meeting of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), and in Minnesota, where she founded the Women's Dance Health Project in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Cook returned to Akwesasne in 1980, where she practiced midwifery, helped develop the Akwesasne Freedom School, and founded and directed the Women's Dance Health Program (funded by a grant from the Ms. Foundation). When concerns arose among women on the reservation about the safety of breastfeeding, Cook started the Mother's Milk Monitoring Project in 1984, to monitor PCB levels in breast milk and to address the environmental impact of industrial development of the St. Lawrence Seaway Project, begun in the 1950s. The Mother's Milk Project is still extant and provides services and advocacy for residents of Akwesasne (one of the most severely polluted Native American communities), among them inclusion in the Superfund Basic Research Program.

Cook has participated in national and international women's health movements, including service on the board of the National Women's Health Network, involvement in the Nestle boycott, and work with Mayan midwifes in Guatemala. She monitors indigenous rights in the drafting of midwifery legislation and is the founding aboriginal midwife of the Six Nations Birthing Centre where she assists with student training, curriculum development, and community education. Cook is Director of the Iewirokwas Midwifery Program of Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Supported by a Ford Foundation grant, she is currently developing the First Environment Institute to restore indigenous puberty rites as means of advancing maternal and child health on the Akwesasne and Pine Ridge reservations. She is also conducting research with the Indian Health Service and writing Daughters of Sky Woman: A Cultural Ecology of Birth.