Honoring the diversity of Indigenous breastfeeding experiences

I’m writing to you today from the land of the Peoria, Sauk and Meskwaki, Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi), Miami and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) tribes. 

It was Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC (Sisseton-Wahpeton)  who first introduced me to the concept of honoring Native Americans who allow us to be on their land during an International Breastfeeding Conference presentation where she thanked the Seminole and Tequesta People. 

Last week marked Native Breastfeeding Week, a time to reflect on the diversity of Native breastfeeding experiences and to showcase these experiences.

Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash
“Tohono Indian Women led the Tucson 2019 Women’s March with a show of strength, resilience and power. This woman’s sign said: My Mom, Sisters, Aunties and Grandmas are sacred. Her son was by her side.”

Native Breastfeeding Week served to uplift and celebrate Native communities but also addressed “the inequity and injustice of Indigenous mothers and their abilities to practice their roles in accordance to the tribal communities they descend from,” as the Native Breastfeeding Week Facebook page put it. 

Stephanne Rupnicki is the Co-Founder of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Breastfeeding Coalition and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. Rupnicki says she used this week to inspire her community members to become active in breastfeeding advocacy. 

Rupnicki confirms the importance of what Goldhammer writes in The Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor- Decolonizing Breastfeeding Education: “Historically all breastfeeding certifications and most breastfeeding education has been taught by and centers on white women and their families. Because of this many lactation supporters are ill equipped to serve communities of color.”

Positions like Rupnicki’s, centers Indiginous experiences and “puts the power to support breastfeeding…in the hands of the community.” 

Available to roughly 8,000 enrolled tribal members, as well as all of the employees of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and their casino, Rupnicki’s work stays steady beyond Native Breastfeeding Week.

Also a powerhouse: Cheri Nemec, RD, CD, CLS (Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), Project Coordinator of Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc.’s Breastfeeding: The Traditional Way (BTW) which was established in 2016 to improve breastfeeding duration rates for infants in eleven tribes in Wisconsin.  

A couple of the greatest outcomes were:

  1. Development of a statewide tribal breastfeeding coalition
  2. Creation of a Breastfeeding Resolution and toolkit that has been passed by 3 tribes so far—the resolution is similar to the right to BF state laws
  3. Using WI tribal members to create culturally appropriate materials
  4. Creating 2 children’s books about breastfeeding (1 includes tribal languages)
  5. Breastfeeding survey-results are described in the power point—we didn’t get the response we would have liked but were pleased to have all American Indian results,” Nemec shares. 

    From Native Breastfeeding Coalition of Wisconsin: “Oneida Nation held their first ever Latch On event August 2nd in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week. They counted 7 latches! Over 50 people attended to support breastfeeding in the Oneida Nation. Congratulations to the Oneida Breastfeeding Group and Oneida Breastfeeding Parent Circle for a fantastic event!”

Rachael Lorenzo is a mother of two and a member of Laguna Pueblo and Mescalero Apache tribes living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can read about her breastfeeding experience on USBC’s blog.

Kimberly Seals Allers helps tell the breastfeeding journey of an Indigenous woman named Shaine, a proud member of the Pueblo of Acoma tribe in New Mexico in part of her video series Breastfeeding Uncovered

Our Milky Way featured #1stSacredFood here in a piece that describes how generational trauma affects infant feeding. 

You can help continue the Native Breastfeeding conversation with more here:

USBC Guide to Native American Heritage Month http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/p/cm/ld/fid=583

Visit the Native Breastfeeding Week event page for gorgeous imagery of Native People breastfeeding and artwork https://www.facebook.com/events/2104887269805220/

Read up on the Indigenous-led chat to celebrate #1stSacredFood 


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