Celebrating the Inaugural Ōiwi Breastfeeding Week with J.E.D.I. - Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion - in Hawai'i

Amber Kapuamakamaeokalani Granite, IBC, GPCE / August 2021

Authored By:

Amber Kapuamakamaeokalani Granite, IBC, GPCE

Amber Kapuamakamaeokalani Granite was born and raised on the island of O’ahu in the Occupied Kingdom of Hawai’i, known as the state of Hawai’i. She has four children, ages 14, 11, 10, and 6. She currently serves as a Prenatal Care Coordinator, as well as WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator, at the Waimānalo Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Waimānalo, O’ahu. She also serves as the Board President of Breastfeeding Hawai’i, the state’s only breastfeeding coalition. Amber is the co-coordinator for the Hawai’i Indigenous Breastfeeding Collaborative, whose purpose is to revive and re-claim indigenous breastfeeding practices through education, research, and sharing of knowledge among current and potential indigenous breastfeeding support persons in Hawai’i.

She is an IBC (Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor) and GPCE (Graduate Professional Childbirth Educator). You can find Amber on Instagram at hi_indigenous_breastfeeding or at the Hawai’I Indigenous Breastfeeding Collaborative Facebook group.

Learning About Ōiwi Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month

Why does J.E.D.I matter to all of us during National Breastfeeding Awareness Month? Breastfeeding Awareness Month dedicates the month of August to celebrating all of the amazing benefits, stories, community, and fellowship relating to breastfeeding our children. This year in Hawaiʻi we are honoring our Kanaka ʻŌiwi, or Native people of Hawaiʻi, by creating the first ever ʻŌiwi Breastfeeding Week – a week that celebrates Native Hawaiian cultural practices, foods, traditions, and stories around breastfeeding.

As we know, human breast milk is the gold standard for protective growth factors, nutrients, and immunity for our keiki, our children. However, as Native people, we also identify breast milk as ancestral medicine and the mother as the medicine keeper. Mother is the earth, the ʻāina or land, and it is she who feeds and provides for all future generations as those who came before provided for her. Our Native Hawaiian cultural practices cater to caring, nourishing, honoring, and celebrating a motherʻs growing body as she is carrying the future of our people in her womb. The place she births, the way she births, and even the sounds she makes during birth are all named and are even specific to the part of Hawaiʻi she resides in.

The cultural practices in helping a motherʻs milk to come in can vary by island and even by district or moku. This is sacred cultural knowledge that was passed down through generations and was, for a time, lost due to colonization and the attempted erasure of our culture and language.

Importance of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Breastfeeding Education

So, how does this relate to JEDI: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? Equity is recognizing that, while we all may equally desire to breastfeed, we as Native Hawaiians have and should be encouraged to continue our cultural practices and foods and exchange of knowledge around breastfeeding. Diversity is achieved through sharing this special week with all of you while learning about and celebrating yours and others’ cultural practices in breastfeeding.

Never has there been a Native Hawaiian-specific breastfeeding week. While Hawaiʻi is part of the United States of America, we have limited representation in Nationally-recognized spaces and do not have any type of Federal Recognition as Native Americans do. Giving us a seat at the table also offers us inclusivity and recognizes us as indigenous peoples of our own land, with our own culture and values. 

In researching and reviving our Native Hawaiian cultural practices we achieve ʻike pono, ʻike meaning knowledge and pono meaning balance, justice, and what is right. We can call this “data justice”. Honoring Native Hawaiian cultural practices and identifying them as data is a form of justice for our people. Data does not always look like charts and statistics. It looks like the line on a motherʻs pregnant belly that tells a midwife when a mother will hānau, or give birth. It looks like a practitioner offering pule, or prayer, and then combining different plants to create a lāʻau, or plant medicine, to help a mother increase her milk supply. Honoring these practices, the practitioners who carry on this knowledge, and our kūpuna, our ancestors who blessed us with these brilliant methods of ola or wellness, is how to move towards justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. 

Celebrating and Honoring Ōiwi Breastfeeding Week

I invite you to join us during ʻŌiwi Breastfeeding Week, which will be from August 8 - 14, 2021. I also invite you to ask an Indigenous Lactation Support Person how you can be an ally to them and their work. Listen to their stories, encourage them to share, and never, ever seek to share their ʻike, their knowledge, as if you are now the keeper of that knowledge.

“Aʻohe hana nui ke alu ʻia.” This Native Hawaiian proverb tells us that no work is too great when done together. Mahalo.

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