At Mammae, we honour and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands known as Australia. We extend our deepest respects to the Elders, both those who have passed and those who continue to guide us, carrying the torch of their heritage into the future.
We humbly recognise the enduring legacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have nurtured their babies through breastfeeding on this Country for over 60,000 years. We celebrate the strength of these mothers, whose traditions have been passed down through millennia, standing as a testament to their resilience and their profound connection to the land.
Furthermore, we appreciate the vital role of the partners, families, and communities who uphold and support these mothers in their journey. We stand in solidarity with them, acknowledging their efforts and contribution to the rich tapestry of cultural heritage that continues to flourish across these lands.
As we commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, we invite you to join us in a poignant reflection and celebration.
This occasion provides a pivotal opportunity to highlight breastfeeding's universal significance and its particular resonance within indigenous cultures.
We delve into the heart-rending history of the stolen generation and the renaissance of indigenous breastfeeding traditions, honouring the resilience and ongoing efforts of indigenous communities to reclaim their cultural practices.
The term "stolen generation" represents the sorrowful legacy of indigenous children's systematic removal from their families, predominantly in Australia. This government-enforced practice, spanning several decades, shattered the sacred bond of breastfeeding, fracturing families and communities. The objective was the erasure of indigenous culture and the assimilation of these children into a Eurocentric society.
For indigenous mothers, breastfeeding isn't merely a method of nourishment; it's an intimate connection linking them to their infants, their ancestors, and their heritage. This deeply rooted tradition holds spiritual, emotional, and physical significance, and its disruption caused mothers and infants immeasurable trauma.
In this light, we are honoured to present a heartfelt conversation with Charlotte Wighton, a luminary indigenous mother of two. Her words echo the countless untold stories of women in Australia, tales of struggle, victory, and inherent strength.
Charlotte's narrative unfolds on the sacred land of Byron Bay on Australia's pristine east coast. Her experiences not only resonate with mothers, but also with every indigenous individual whose contributions have shaped their culture and society. Through her story, we explore the deeper implications of World Breastfeeding Week for indigenous communities throughout Australia's rich societal spectrum.
Charlotte's testimony transcends her personal journey, serving as a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted connections that indigenous peoples have established with the land and society through breastfeeding. Her words radiate a hopeful promise for a future anchored in empathy, acceptance, and a sincere appreciation of diversity.
As a beacon of hope for all mothers, Charlotte's voice is a clarion call for recognition and representation. This World Breastfeeding Week, we invite you to join us in an emotional conversation celebrating indigenous contributions and promoting a more inclusive dialogue around breastfeeding and motherhood.
Our pledge at Mammae is to contribute to meaningful changes that echos the voice of Charlotte and many others who advocate for unity, awareness, and understanding for breastfeeding women globally. We hope this interview enlightens and inspires, fostering a world that respects diversity and underscores World Breastfeeding Week as a symbol of unity and progress. With this intention, we warmly welcome you on this enlightening journey as we honour World Breastfeeding Week through Charlotte's empathetic lens.
Meet Charlotte Wighton, a modern Wiradjuri woman from the central west of Australia. Her unique identity is beautifully woven from her Indigenous heritage on her father's side, and her Scottish and English ancestry passed down from her mother.
Charlotte's journey began in the charming country town of Wellington, NSW, where she spent her formative years before venturing to a boarding school in Sydney during her secondary education. It was during these experiences that she embraced both her indigenous roots and her multicultural background, shaping her into the empowered woman she is today.
At the age of 22, Charlotte became a single mother, a transformative moment in her life that rekindled her connection to her Indigenous heritage. This pivotal chapter led her to rediscover and practise her ancestral culture with more enthusiasm than ever before. Guided by other inspiring Indigenous women, she immersed herself in her people's traditions, gaining wisdom and knowledge that became an integral part of her motherhood journey.
Charlotte found herself delving deep into her Indigenous roots, learning about the significance of fire and taking on the responsibility of fire keeping. Drawing strength from her ancestors' guidance and honouring her grandmother's lore, she embarked on a profound spiritual and cultural journey.
Through this process of reconnection, she discovered the true essence of motherhood, an experience she cherishes deeply and will forever hold close to her heart. As she raises her daughter, she aims to pass down the wisdom and traditions she has embraced, preserving and sharing her heritage for generations to come.
Charlotte Wighton stands as a testament to the power of embracing one's heritage and allowing it to shape and enrich one's life, inspiring others to find strength in their cultural identity and carry it with pride into the future. Her story is a tribute to the resilience of Indigenous cultures and a celebration of the profound impact that cultural heritage can have on personal growth and motherhood.
As an Aboriginal indigenous mother, can you share with us your personal connection to World Breastfeeding Week and what it means to you?
As an Aboriginal indigenous mother, World Breastfeeding Week is deeply meaningful to me and my community. It celebrates our cultural connection to breastfeeding, passed down through generations, nourishing not only the body but also the spirit.
This week is an opportunity to share our traditions, raise awareness about its significance, and address barriers faced by indigenous mothers. This global recognition is essential, especially considering the enduring trauma and lasting effects experienced by indigenous communities due to the stolen generation. Personally, this calendar event empowers me, strengthens my roots, and honours the wisdom of my ancestors. I hope it inspires others to embrace our heritage and appreciate the beauty of indigenous motherhood.
Breastfeeding holds an incredibly special place in my heart. The bond it creates between me, as a mother and woman, and my baby is unparalleled. Beyond nourishing their body, it brings a profound sense of grounding and connection. Nursing is a calming and soothing experience for both me and my baby, providing essential support and immunity during those tender moments.
Spending time nursing allows for a beautiful emotional and physical connection between my baby and me. It's a precious moment to be present and fully engage with each other. Breastfeeding gifts me the opportunity to slow down and savour these intimate moments.
World Breastfeeding Week is a refreshing occasion that acknowledges and appreciates the journey of mothers and babies in their breastfeeding experience. It brings much-needed awareness to the uniqueness of each family's experience, as no two mothers or babies are alike. This awareness is crucial as it sheds light on the challenges and struggles that many women face on their breastfeeding journey.
I am sincerely grateful to Mammae for providing me with this platform to contribute to the essential dialogue surrounding breastfeeding, motherhood, and the preservation of our cultural heritage. Through sharing our stories and experiences, we can build understanding and unity, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate society for all mothers and children.
World Breastfeeding Week is a time to celebrate the history, culture, and time honoured traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. What are some of the key messages or stories that you think need to be highlighted during this important week?
During World Breastfeeding Week, I think we need to consider and celebrate the history, culture, and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when it comes to breastfeeding. It's all about recognising how important breastfeeding is in indigenous communities, not just for nourishment but also for that special emotional and spiritual connection between mother and child.
It's amazing to see the diversity of breastfeeding practices within different indigenous groups, each with its own unique customs and knowledge. So much so, we need to share stories of strength and resilience, showing how indigenous mothers have been nurturing their children through generations despite trauma and challenges. We need to talk about the support systems that surround these mothers, with family, elders, and the community playing a crucial role. But we also need to address the challenges they face, like access to healthcare and cultural barriers, and work on finding solutions that fit their unique needs.
It's a time to cherish and preserve the traditional wisdom passed down from ancestors and to promote inclusivity and respect when discussing breastfeeding in these communities. By doing so, we honour indigenous motherhood and the vital role they play in raising their children with love and care.
What are some of the main challenges that indigenous women face when it comes to breastfeeding?
In modern society, indigenous women encounter numerous distinctive challenges in breastfeeding, and it's disheartening to witness the persistent inequalities that persist. However, it's essential to acknowledge that these issues can extend beyond their communities and affect various cultures as well. Addressing these very real challenges requires a multifaceted approach that involves cultural sensitivity, improved healthcare access, targeted support systems, and a commitment to preserving and revitalising traditional breastfeeding practices within indigenous communities.
Let’s dive in and unravel this together:
Cultural Barriers: Modern societal norms and influences may sometimes conflict with traditional indigenous breastfeeding practices, leading to a loss of cultural knowledge and confidence in breastfeeding.
Healthcare Access: Limited access to quality healthcare facilities and lactation support can hinder many indigenous women from receiving the necessary guidance and assistance during their breastfeeding journey.
Historical Trauma: The legacy of colonisation and historical trauma can immensely impact indigenous communities, affecting maternal mental health and, in turn, the ability to breastfeed successfully.
Resource Inequalities: Indigenous communities may face inequality in resources, including access to proper nutrition, clean water, and other factors that influence maternal health and breastfeeding outcomes.
Support Systems: Traditional support systems that were once integral to indigenous breastfeeding practices may have been eroded, affecting the knowledge-sharing and emotional support available to new mothers.
Stigma and Misconceptions: Indigenous mothers may encounter stigmas or misconceptions related to breastfeeding, leading to a lack of community support and understanding.
Geographical Isolation: Living in remote or isolated regions can limit access to healthcare services and peer support, making it challenging for indigenous women to seek assistance or connect with others facing similar experiences.
Do you feel that modernisation has affected the spiritual aspects of breastfeeding in Aboriginal communities? If so, how?
Yes, modernisation has had a profound impact on the spiritual aspects of breastfeeding in Aboriginal communities. With the influence of modern societal norms, technology, and changing lifestyles, some traditional spiritual practices and beliefs surrounding breastfeeding have definitely been disrupted or in some cases diminished altogether.
The fast-paced nature of modern life can at times undermine the spiritual connection that breastfeeding offers. The demands of mothers pressured to re-enter the workforce, the ‘hustle culture’ and the reliance on convenience can create challenges for mothers to fully engage in the sacred and spiritual connection that breastfeeding can provide both mama and baby.
Moreover, I personally believe the influence of Western medical perspectives and mainstream media can sometimes overshadow traditional spiritual beliefs related to breastfeeding. Indigenous communities may be exposed to ‘alternative perspectives’ that prioritise scientific explanations over cultural and spiritual understandings.
However, it's important to note that despite these challenges, many Aboriginal communities do continue to hold the spiritual aspects of breastfeeding in high regard. Efforts are being made to preserve and revitalise traditional practices, ensuring that the spiritual connection between mother and child through breastfeeding remains a cherished and valued part of our modern culture.
How can ancestral wisdom be respected, acknowledged, and integrated into modern healthcare strategies?
Respecting, acknowledging, and integrating ancestral wisdom into modern healthcare strategies involves recognising the value of traditional knowledge, collaborating with indigenous communities, incorporating cultural practices into care, and promoting cross-cultural education among healthcare providers and society.
How do elder women in your community contribute to supporting and nurturing the breastfeeding relationship?
Elder women in our community play a vital role in supporting and nurturing the breastfeeding relationship. Their wisdom and experience are invaluable in providing guidance and advice to new mothers. They offer emotional support, share traditional breastfeeding knowledge and practices, and serve as role models for nurturing and caring for infants. Elder women also create a sense of community, fostering a supportive environment where breastfeeding mothers can connect, learn, and find comfort in shared experiences. Their ongoing presence and involvement help to strengthen the breastfeeding relationship and contribute to the overall well-being of both mother and child.
How have the traditional beliefs and practices around breastfeeding in your community been passed on from generation to generation?
Traditional beliefs and practices around breastfeeding in our community have been passed on from generation to generation through storytelling, cultural ceremonies, and direct teachings within families. It’s through our elders that play such a crucial role in sharing their knowledge and experiences, ensuring that the wisdom surrounding breastfeeding is preserved and carried down to new ‘modern’ mothers. The passing down of these beautiful traditions and philosophies fosters a deep cultural connection and continuity in our community's breastfeeding practices over time.
Can you share any special myths, stories, or wisdom from your culture that surrounds the act of breastfeeding?
Certainly! In our culture, breastfeeding is deeply intertwined with spiritual beliefs and revered as a sacred act. One of the special myths passed down through generations is the story of the "Nourishing Mother."
According to the myth, a divine mother figure, often represented as a goddess, is the source of all nourishment and sustenance for her children. She embodies the life-giving force of nature, symbolising the bond between mother and child, similar to how breastfeeding nourishes not only the body but also the soul. Very much a philosophy that I believe resonates strongly through your Brand, Erin.
In this story, the act of breastfeeding is seen as a divine connection, where the mother becomes a vessel of abundance and love for her child. The story emphasises the nurturing and protective aspects of motherhood, drawing parallels between the natural world's cycles and the mother's ability to sustain life through her breast milk.
This myth is shared during special ceremonies, especially when celebrating the birth of a child or during World Breastfeeding Week. It serves as a reminder of the spiritual dimension of breastfeeding, reinforcing the belief that mothers are the guardians of life and bringers of sustenance to their children. (I have goosebumps and I think I'm feeling a let-down by just writing these words!)
Additionally, I must also share that in our community, there is a beautiful practice that reflects the interconnectedness and support among mothers. If a mother becomes unwell, the baby is lovingly cared for and nourished by other mothers and women in the camp. They step in to breastfeed and provide the necessary nourishment until the mother recovers and is able to resume breastfeeding.
This practice exemplifies the communal spirit and collective responsibility we embrace when it comes to caring for our children. It highlights the understanding that breastfeeding is not just the responsibility of one mother, but a shared endeavour within our community.
The act of passing the baby between mothers and women in the camp not only ensures the baby receives the essential nourishment they need but also fosters a sense of bonding and interconnectedness among the caregivers. It showcases the strength and support inherent in our community as we come together to care for one another and prioritise the well-being of our children.
This practice carries with it a profound wisdom, reminding us of the importance of solidarity and the power of collective nurturing in our community. It is a testament to the deep bonds that exist beyond biological ties and reinforces the notion that we are all responsible for the well-being and nourishment of each child within our community.
How do you think understanding the 'stolen generation' can help non-indigenous communities better understand and respect indigenous breastfeeding practices?
Understanding the 'stolen generation' can be a pivotal step towards fostering empathy and respect within non-iIndigenous communities towards indigenous breastfeeding practices. Individuals can appreciate that breastfeeding is not solely about feeding a child, but it also holds deep-rooted connections to ancestral trauma, wisdom, identity, and a sense of belonging.
With this awareness, non-indigenous communities can show greater sensitivity and support for indigenous mothers' choices and breastfeeding practices. They can refrain from imposing Western-centric norms or stigmatising breastfeeding in public spaces. Instead, they can celebrate and respect the diversity of breastfeeding practices.
Moreover, comprehending the historical context can also lead to a more inclusive and equitable dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous communities regarding breastfeeding and motherhood. It allows for a deeper appreciation of the immeasurable challenges indigenous mothers have faced and continue to face.
It paves the way for collaborative efforts to support and protect indigenous breastfeeding practices, fostering a more inclusive and respectful society that values and cherishes the cultural diversity of motherhood.
A GIFT to you.
©Mammae 2023Author | Erin Deger + Contributor | Charlotte Wighton + Visuals | Ruby Holland