Celebrate the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective’s Work!
By: Cheri Nemec RDN, IBC, CD, CLS
August is here once again! As many families and communities start back-to-school planning, we look forward to celebrating the first sacred food—breast/chest milk. August is recognized as National Breastfeeding/Lactation Month and the second week of the month will recognize the fifth annual Indigenous Milk Medicine Week (IMMW).
Beginning in 2019, when it was formerly called Native Breastfeeding Week, the week was created to promote the diversity of Native breast/chestfeeding and lactation experiences and to acknowledge the specific barriers and challenges that Native and Indigenous milk medicine carriers and their families can experience. Moreover, the week serves to encourage and celebrate the milk medicine journeys of individuals and their communities from Turtle Island (another term for so-called North America) and beyond.
Each year, the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective, a grassroots organization of breast/chestfeeding advocates from tribal nations across the country, provide opportunities for education, support, and promotion of Indigenous Milk. The Collective states “Indigenous milk medicine is a first sacred food and a sustainable food system that advances Rematriation, public health, and ceremony”.
Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective was formally founded in 2021, however members were originally brought together by Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, and have been working on this effort since 2019 and 2020. Jasha is a self-described “Intertribal Love Song” belonging to the Seminole, Pawnee, Iowa, Omaha, and Mvskoke Creek Nations. They identify as Two Spirit. They currently practice as an Indigenous Lactation Counselor and certified birthworker. They are honored to be a parent and maintain a “Run, Pray, Laugh” lifestyle with their family. For Jasha, being a part of the Collective and promoting IMMW means “Reclaiming our place as healers through Milk Medicine for our Indigy babes.”
Collective member Courtney Peyketewa (she/her) is a proud member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma (Tusekia Harjo Band, Tiger Clan) and member of the Polecat Euchee Ceremonial Ground (of Kellyville, OK). She joined the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective as a breastfeeding parent and community advocate. Courtney connects with IMMW because it is a safe and uplifting place to support parents and caregivers during their milk journeys. “We love to celebrate our first sacred food and want others to connect and find the support they need to be successful with their experiences”.
Kimberly Moore-Salas, Dine’/Navajo, uses her 12 plus years of experience as an IBCLC serving Indigenous communities throughout Indian Country to contribute to education and support during IMMW. “What I love about IMMW is bringing community together, celebrating our Milk Medicine experiences and showing up for each other”.
Camie Jae Goldhammer(Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyaté) is a clinical social worker, lactation consultant and full spectrum doula. She loves Native moms and babies and has spent nearly 20 years supporting them through her maternal child health work and along with her “breastie” Kimberly Moore-Salas (Diné) have trained nearly 550 Indigi-LCs in the US and Canada. Camie loves being a part of the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective and says her favorite part is seeing the beautiful photos of Indigenous babies getting their first traditional food.
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Wisconsin) member, Cheri Nemec, RDN, CLS, IBC, connected with the collective through work for the Native Breastfeeding Coalition of Wisconsin. “Promoting IMMW helps to highlight the support that is building in Indigenous Communities across the country.”
Jaclyn Rossel, Navajo, supports the Collective by building self-care opportunities for parents and caregivers. She believes in providing moments for reflection for all caregivers.
As an Indigenous Birth Worker, Brittnee Arch (Eastern Band Cherokee and Navajo) provides support and education in her community. Brittnee brings together groups to highlight the importance of family support.
Takayla Lightfield (Mnicoujou Lakota, Cheyenne River Sioux) brings her perspective through her lactation experience and work in communities. She has highlighted her Support Circles during IMMW.
For 2023, the theme of the week is “From the Stars to a Sustainable Future” with commissioned artwork by Jackie Fawn (Yurok/Washoe/Filipino). This theme connects milk medicine to Mother Earth and the elements of water, land, fire and air. “From the stars” is a reflection for many Indigenous people’s heavens, origins, and/or ancestors. A Sustainable Future involves respecting and protecting all life givers, including the elements of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water, integral to the teachings and foundations taught to many Indigenous people. Through breast/chestfeeding, indigenous people can promote health, community, environment, and cultural traditions that contribute to a sustainable future.
Indigenous Milk Medicine Week 2023 activities and sessions will include intersections of lactation with environmental justice, reproductive justice, and the connection and protection of water. Key program highlights for this year include discussing the intersection of Environmental Indigenous Femme Justice and Lactation with Janene Yazzie; a topical session called Dysphoric Milk Ejection: DMER The reason you may feel sad when you breastfeed; a discussion called Breast milk supply: is it hereditary? (Cultural vs Biological); a Live Q&A with two of the very few Native Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), Kimberly Moore-Salas and Camie Goldhammer; a presentation by the first Indigenous breastfeeding coalition formed, the Navajo Nation Breastfeeding Coalition; and closing the week is an awards ceremony honoring the amazing work of this year’s Indigenous Lactation Counselors.
There will be an opportunity for individuals and families to share lactation stories and journeys through a virtual Latch-on event in partnership with the Native Breastfeeding Coalition of Wisconsin. Milk Medicine carriers and their supporters can email this coalition a nursing image and/or story to share on social media.
Finally, the annual t-shirt fundraiser includes a stickers sale! The artwork by Jackie Fawn will be featured on a limited-edition t-shirt and holographic sticker as well as two other holographic sticker designs of the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective name and Medicine Flower logo. These can be bought by Native woman-owned Beyond Buckskin Boutique (order here https://shop.beyondbuckskin.com/) There is a rare bundle option of the 2022 t-shirt and 2023 t-shirt design with a free sticker pack. Get yours before they sell out!
A schedule of events can be found on our website https://www.indigenousmilkmedicinecollective.org and Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective on Facebook or Instagram.
About the Author: Cheri Nemec, RDN, CD, CLS, ILC
Cheri is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Specialist (CLS), Indigenous Lactation Counselor (ILC) and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin. For the past 20 years, Cheri has worked with Tribal WIC, SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention, and Breastfeeding: The Traditional Way programs through Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc. Since 2016, Cheri has been part of the leadership team for the Native Breastfeeding Coalition of Wisconsin. Through this role, she works with a national collective to promote Indigenous Milk Medicine Week celebrations each August. In addition, Cheri currently holds the position of Chair of the National Indigenous and Native American WIC Coalition (NINAWC) and represents Indigenous Agencies on the board of directors for the National WIC Association.