Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention


I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and Canada FASD Research Network on an initiative responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call-to-Action #33.

Call-to-Action #33 focuses on culturally relevant approaches to preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:

“We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to recognize as a high priority the need to address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and to develop, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, FASD preventive programs that can be delivered in a culturally appropriate manner.”

As one way of supporting discussion and action, these organizations have published a series of five booklets:

  1. Indigenous Mothering
  2. Wellness
  3. Reconciliation and Healing
  4. Community Action
  5. Brief Interventions with Girls and Women

These booklets are intended to be a starting place for individuals, organizations, and communities who are interested in learning how they can be involved in supporting FASD prevention in Indigenous communities in ways that are respectful of history, culturally aligned and supportive of Indigenous self-determination and cultural resurgence.

A few screenshots from inside the booklets below.

You can download the booklets from the websites of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and the Canada FASD Research Network.

Keeping Canada Alive

Keeping Canada Alive is a new six-part series debuting on CBC this October that asks: What if we could see what our health care system does in a single day?

Over a 24-hour period in May 2015, more than 60 cameras descended on health and home care locations in 24 Canadian cities to capture the stories and experiences of patients and health care providers.

There is also a companion online experience which features more than 40 hours of extended breakout footage, original content, as well as an online 24-hour stream of raw footage.

Episode 4 includes a story about a birth in Kamloops and links to online content discussing breastfeeding, home births, the optimal time to cut the umbilical cord and a range of other issues. The work that Aleck Ostry and I did on breastfeeding trends in Canada is featured here. Check out the extended video coverage of A Baby is Born in Kamloops here.

The series premieres on CBC on Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 9 p.m.

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“Fertile Ground: Exploring Reproduction in Canada” released


Aleck Ostry and I have a chapter called “Promoting Breastfeeding, Solving Social Problems: Exploring State Involvement in Breastfeeding” in the newly released edited book Fertile Ground: Exploring Reproduction in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014).

The chapter explores how breastfeeding promotion and policy in Canada has historically tended to focus on all the social and medical benefits of breastfeeding rather than on supporting women in having positive breastfeeding experiences. Just as an example, the Canadian government promoted breastfeeding in the early 20th century as an important strategy in addressing high rates of infant mortality and concerns about nation-building and nourishing ‘infant-soldiers.’

The image below is an ad from The Globe and Mail in 1921. It says “The future of Canada lies in the arms of every nursing mothers…..Mothers of Canada, it is to the Babies you hold in your arms that Canada looks to carry on her great traditions, and upon you and your mother wisdom depends the fitness of those Babies for the mighty destiny that awaits them.”

Yes, once upon a time, breastfeeding was equated with patriotism…. There have been other times and places in history where breastfeeding has similarly been promoted as a national duty. Women’s bodies have tended to be a site where politics of all sorts are played out and represented and this collection explores some of these dynamics.

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There are two other chapters on breastfeeding in the book – one by Marlene K. Sokolon and another by Robyn Lee. The book covers diverse terrain (pun intended?) including in vitro fertilization policy, alternative childbirth, and the politics and marketing of the oral contraceptive pill.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Politics of Experience
1 Exploring How Women Think About and Make Their Reproductive Choices: A Generational Approach
Diana L. Gustafson and Marilyn Porter
2 IVF Policy and the Stratification of Reproduction in Canada
Francesca Scala
3 Stratified Reproduction: Making the Case for Butch Lesbians’, Transmen’s, and Genderqueer Individuals’ Experiences in British Columbia
Michelle Walks
4 Reproducing Inequality and Identity: An Intersectional Analysis of Maternal Health Preferences
Candace Johnson

Part Two: The State of Reproduction
5 Quebec’s Constitutional Challenge to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act: Overlooking Women’s Reproductive Autonomy?
Vanessa Gruben and Angela Cameron
6 On Reproductive Citizenship: Thinking about Social Rights and Assisted Reproduction in Canada
Alana Cattapan
7 Deinstitutionalizing Pregnancy and Birth: Alternative Childbirth and the New Scalar Politics of Reproduction
Stephanie Paterson
8 With Breast Intentions: Breastfeeding Policy in Canada
Marlene K. Sokolon
9 Doctor Knows Best: The Illusion of Reproductive Freedom in Canada
Julia Thomson-Philbrook

Part Three: The Discursive Politics of Reproduction: Subjectivity, Discourse, and Power
10 Girl Power and the Pill: Unpacking Web-based Marketing for Alesse and Yasmin
Lisa Smith
11 Promoting Breastfeeding, Solving Social Problems: Exploring State Involvement in Breastfeeding
Tasnim Nathoo and Aleck Ostry
12 Care of the Self: An Alternative Way to Understand Breastfeeding
Robyn Lee
13 Indigenous Body as Contaminated Site? Examining Struggles for Reproductive Justice in Aamjiwnaang
Sarah Marie Wiebe and Erin Marie Konsmo

Fertile Ground: Exploring Reproduction in Canada


McGill-Queen’s University Press is releasing a new title this spring exploring the political dimensions of reproduction. The book, Fertile Ground: Exploring Reproduction in Canada, grew out of a workshop held in September 2010 by the political science department at Concordia University. Topics covered various areas of reproductive politics, including motherhood, reproductive rights and medical tourism.

According to the preliminary info on the publisher’s website:

“Three major themes are developed in the book: women’s lived experiences, the role of the state in reproductive politics, and discourses around reproduction. Contributors examine unequal access to in vitro fertilization treatments depending upon class, race, age, disability, and health status; critique Health Canada’s adherence to a medical model of breastfeeding; analyze marketing campaigns for birth-control products; and recount the Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s experience of seeking recognition for reproductive health concerns.”

Aleck Ostry and I have a chapter on the role of the state in promoting breastfeeding.

The book is scheduled to be released in June 2014.

Breastfeeding and Social Movements

New Internationalist magazine, The BabyMilk Issue, April 1982
The Nestlé boycott, likely the largest consumer boycott ever, was launched on July 7, 1977 and continues today.

If you think that deciding whether to breastfeed your baby is an individual choice or personal preference, you might be surprised to learn that rates of breastfeeding have always been intertwined with social and cultural movements.

Some of the movements and organizations that have directly or indirectly influenced breastfeeding practices over time include the Nestlé Boycott, feminism in all its forms, the natural childbirth movement, INFACT Canada, La Leche League, Eats on Feets, the UN/WHO Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, and the slow food movement.

This is one of the themes Aleck Ostry and I discuss in our book chapter in Health and Sustainability in the Canadian Food System: Advocacy and Opportunity for Civil Society published by UBC Press (2012).

Food Advocacy in Canada

How does real change come about? Aleck Ostry and I are part of a group of contributors trying to answer this questions in a soon-to-be released book called Health and Sustainability in the Canadian Food System: Advocacy and Opportunity for Civil Society (UBC Press, June 2012).

The book is an exploration of the successes and limitations of food advocacy work in Canada. Our chapter is called “For All the Wrong Reasons: Ninety Years of Breastfeeding Promotion in Canada” and looks at the influences of government, various social movements, and civil society organizations on trends in breastfeeding and strategies for supporting (or not supporting) women.

Edited by Rod MacRae and Elisabeth Abergel, the book covers topics ranging from sustainable pest management and obesity in schools to agricultural land protection and green politics. The book is scheduled to be released in June; in the meantime, you can take a look at the Table of Contents in the UBC Press Environmental Studies catalogue.