Native Breastfeeding Week is Over, But the Work Continues

The second annual Native Breastfeeding Week (NBW) took place from August 9-15, 2020, and it was nothing short of incredible! NBW's efforts to lift the visibility of Indigenous milk experiences produced a groundswell of love, demonstrated the demand to be fully seen, and the visceral reclamation of the sovereignty of first food. If you somehow missed it, visit the Native Breastfeeding Week (NBW) or Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor (IBC) pages and check out the hashtags below on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

#nativebreastfeedingweek #FreetheNipple #medicinemilkjourneys #indigenousmilkheals
#strongresilientlatched #1stSacredFood #NormalizeChestfeeding #foodsovereignty

Communities across the nations celebrated their strength and resilience through a surge of imagery that established a modern view of Native peoples delivering milk medicine. Virtual events, including Daily Sunrise Ceremonies, the #1stSacredFood Twitter Chat, and video discussions on everything from milk sharing, non-binary nursing, and the fierce love of non-parent caregivers, allowed us all to experience the Spirit that is quintessential to this work. Two governors, Gov. Tim Walz (MN) and Gov. Tony Evers (WI), supported this movement in proclaiming August 14, 2020, Native Breastfeeding Day in MN and August 9-15, 2020, Native Breastfeeding Week in WI. The week closed with the launch of the CDC's 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card, featuring an Indigenous person on the cover for the first time ever!

The USBC is also a proud supporter of NBW. We believe in Strong Resilient Latched and thriving tribal nations, communities, and families. We are Many Voices United in solidarity with Native lactation service providers and advocates for access, opportunity, and equity in Indigenous milk experiences as they support their nations and peoples in reclaiming this traditional practice. A practice that was stripped through the theft of land, water, language, and culture, as well as through oppressive colonization, forced migration and assimilation, and genocide. Jasha NBM quote.JPG


In June, the USBC hosted a webinar, Collective Impact: A Conversation with Organizers of August Breastfeeding Events, and Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, the founder of NBW, was a featured speaker. Jasha, a tribal citizen of the Seminole Nation and member of the Pawnee, Iowa, Omaha, and Creek Nations, shared that "Native breast and chest feeding is an act of defiance to the colonial systems and their imposed norms, as well as the resilience of culture and body sovereignty."

On Saturday, I donned my new Stronger Together Indigenous Solidarity with Black Lives Matter t-shirt and did the Native Breastfeeding Week virtual 5K to support, honor, and celebrate Native/Indigenous breast/chest feeders and Native Wellness. I got my badge y'all!!!! I'm over here doing the Cabbage Patch, and if you don't know what that is, look it up!

While walking, I ruminated on partnership versus solidarity and the importance of aligning with Indigenous lactation advocates as they work to:

NBW 5k Badge.png
  • reverse the plague of invisibility perpetuated by racism and oppression,
  • re-establish flourishing breast and chest-feeding communities, and
  • decolonize the practice of lactation support by embracing traditional belief systems and pre-colonial foodways, which includes the provision of Indigenous milk.

The USBC is a collective impact organization that employs the power of partnerships to drive collaborative efforts for the development and implementation of policies and practices that create a landscape of breastfeeding support across the United States. As partners, our members find common ground on which they can ally and work together on shared goals. But solidarity means something more. Solidarity is to embrace someone else's mission, as they define it, and carry it in your heart as your own. This nuance is critical.

Recognizing that our collective well-being is interwoven, the USBC stands in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We center and amplify those voices silenced and oppressed through the savagery of colonialism and ongoing domestic policies that violate treaties and abrogate trust. Revolutionizing policies, systems, and environments to realize our shared vision of thriving families and communities requires that we dismantle oppressive structures, institutions, and systems that perpetuate injustice and inequities. Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, the othering of immigrants, and white supremacist systems and structures nullify our collective capacity to transform the lactation landscape in ways that advance equity, are anti-racist, and, in Jasha's words, allow caregivers to "feed anytime, anywhere, and as long as they want to."

Although NBW is over, the work of fierce Indigenous lactivists to normalize breast and chest-feeding in Indian Country as an act of defiance and sovereignty continues. They must be stronger and more resilient than ever to keep their communities latched while confronting the twin specters of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing acts of systemic racism that perpetuate centuries-old trauma of separating Native children and caregivers.

Even with the widespread issue of data invisibility and underreporting, a recent CDC study indicated that the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among American Indian and Alaskan Native (AI/AN) persons was 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic white persons in 23 states with adequate race/ethnicity data to support analysis. Furthermore, New Mexico—a state that released comprehensive racial data—found AI/ANs to have a five times higher infection rate than the state's general population. With Indigenous people bearing a disproportionate disease burden, AI/AN lactivists have an additional barrier to address. However, they remain resolute and resilient in the face of racism and COVID-19 to serve their communities.

Are you wondering what you can do to support this effort? You can go on a learning journey. For the most part, you probably know the history, but are you aware of the current health implications of historical aggressions? The June 2020 report, The COVID-19 Response in Indian Country: A Federal Failure, by the Center for American Promise, is a must-read. Although dyad separations have been an overarching area of concern during the pandemic, did you know that some hospitals implemented policies tantamount to racial profiling to curb the spread of COVID-19? You can read about the Lovelace Women's Hospital targeted COVID-19 response, which federal investigators found to be a violation of patient rights. Learning is hard, but necessary work.

For more insights about how you can show up, tune in to the COVID-19 Q&A with Nikki & Nikki, where they talk with NBW organizers. The entire webinar is excellent, but be sure to go to timestamp 45:02 to hear Indigenous lactation advocates tell you what you can do!

I am so thankful for the opportunity to witness this second annual NBW. I was personally enriched by the oral and written stories, the songs, the images of Indigenous breast and chest-feeding families, and by the Q&As, podcasts, panel talks, and webinars with AI/AN lactation warriors. It touched my soul to hear speakers identify their tribal lineage while introducing themselves in the languages of Navajo or Dine', Pawnee, Seminole, Chippewa, Cherokee, and others.

I imagine that Native and Indigenous elders and ancestors across the occupied Indigenous territories that we call the United States are proud of this reclamation and restoration of Indigenous languages, frameworks, and systems of support.

Today and every day, it is critical to remember that we are on Indigenous land.

In Peace and Power, 

Sankofa Signature.jpg

Nikia Sankofa
Executive Director
U.S. Breastfeeding Committee

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