Gathering More Voices: The Native American Panel at the 2014 Lactation Summit

5The 2014 Lactation Summit was designed to listen and learn from the missing voices of the profession so that strategies for dismantling institutional oppression within the profession can be developed.

Much was learned from the 2014 Summit, but there is still listening to be done. Over the next few weeks, Lactation Matters will be breaking out the Summit findings from each community that spoke at the Summit. Our goal is two-fold: to shine a brighter light on the concerns raised in each session, and to solicit other voices who were not present at the Summit.

The 2014 Summit was the result of a year-long planning effort by a 22-member design team made up of diverse representatives from seven countries of the world. It was hosted jointly by International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®), International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®), and Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee (LEAARC).

The design team recommended a structure to hear from 26 individuals representing the following categories:

  • African Americans in the U.S.
  • Hispanics in the U.S.
  • Native Americans in the U.S.
  • North and South America
  • Asia Pacific
  • Russia and Europe
  • Communities that cross geographic and ethnic lines (males, lay breastfeeding support groups, those working in remote regions of the world, and the LGBTQI community)

While there are specific barriers unique to various racial, ethnic, geographic, and other groups, several general themes emerged that were common to many of the groups. These findings will help guide future discussions and action plans needed to dismantle institutional oppression.

The following is a summary of the assessments made by individuals representing the panel on Native Americans in the U.S. To read our post on the assessments made by individuals representing the panel on African Americans in the U.S., click here. To access information on each of the panels presented, read a complete summary of the report here.

In future posts, we will be highlighting the assessments made by other communities in the order they were presented in the Summary Report.

We hope that, after reading, you will consider sharing your comments, ideas, and suggested solutions. Please click here to offer your input.

U.S. – Native American Panel

Issues affecting Native American aspiring IBCLCs are similar to those of the African American community in some aspects. However, other unique barriers were also identified.

  • Rampant poor health outcomes – including high rates of diabetes and obesity, can impact breastfeeding success, and can also be decreased and/or prevented through breastfeeding if rates were higher.
  • Breastfeeding rates are low – the by-product of generations of abuse against Native peoples, including forced sterilizations and systematic removal of Native children from their homes. Alcohol became a coping mechanism for many Native communities. Lack of family structures and support as a result of institutional racism contributed to the decline in breastfeeding rates. Where once breastfeeding was an historical norm in the Native community, it has now become a lost art for many.
  • Lack of IBCLCs – in a community where breastfeeding is not the norm. In the U.S., it is believed that there are only about a dozen IBCLCs within the entire community of Native American tribes across the country. The lack of data breaking down ethnicity among IBCLCs was reported as a continuing concern in being able to identify accurate numbers of population groups within the profession, and being able to track progress in addressing inequities.
  • Hard to develop new IBCLCs – in a culture where there are so many vastly different Native reservations across the country and so few IBCLCs. In the Native culture, whites are often not trusted due to the painful history of injustice. This makes it hard to prepare new IBCLCs without adequate mentors to model the profession.
  • Myths about Native Americans – continue to abound, tokenism continues, and assumptions are often made that are incorrect.

Solutions for addressing the unique barriers of aspiring lactation consultants within the Native American community were suggested to include increasing breastfeeding rates, such as outreach with tribal leaders and elders, engaging culturally relevant extended family supports such as grandmothers and “aunties,” and incorporating more Native American IBCLCs as breastfeeding conference speakers to speak as knowledgeable experts about clinical topics rather than just “token” cultural sensitivity topics. This would help heighten visibility of the profession and the contributions of Native American professionals.

We welcome your comments, ideas, and suggested solutions. Please click here to offer your input.

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