First foods as Indigenous food sovereignty: Country foods and breastfeeding practices in a Manitoban First Nations community
Keywords:breastfeeding, First Nations, infant feeding, Indigenous food sovereignty, country food, infant oral health
As a concept and in practice, Indigenous food sovereignty (IFS) offers insights into the social, cultural, and environmental challenges of a deficient food system. The associated poor health outcomes of this system include infant and child health issues such as early childhood caries and childhood obesity, and are a grave concern in many First Nations communities. Extant research has failed to consider the role of infant feeding traditions as an element of Indigenous food sovereignty. Breastfeeding and country food (also called traditional food or cultural food) consumption among infants has been long practiced in First Nations communities, resulting in healthier infants. The research described in this article originated with a research project called the Baby Teeth Talk study (BTT). This is a community-based trial which is testing a pre-natal/post-natal behavioural and preventive intervention for early childhood caries (ECC) among pregnant First Nations women and their infants in urban and on-reserve communities in Ontario and Manitoba. In Norway House Cree Nation, located in northern Manitoba, research participants shared stories on the methods used by caregivers for oral health care, including breastfeeding promotion. This paper reviews the literature relating to IFS, breastfeeding and the introduction of country food to infants. Through the voices of grandmothers in one community in Northern Manitoba, Canada, we connect the introduction of country food and breastfeeding to the larger IFS movement and positive health outcomes for infants, and improve the conceptualization and practice of IFS.
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