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Many Gifts: A Narrative Inquiry Study into Urban Aboriginal Women’s Experiences of Breastfeeding Open Access


Other title
Aboriginal health
Narrative Inquiry
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Goudman, Angela M
Supervisor and department
Barton, Sylvia (Nursing)
Examining committee member and department
Fletcher, Fay (Extension)
Caine, Vera (Nursing)
Richter, M. Solina (Nursing)
Faculty of Nursing

Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Nursing
Degree level
Aboriginal populations constitute one of the largest ethnic populations in Canada. After initial contact with Europeans, these populations were frequently subjected to colonial treatment, including the creation of residential schools. The purpose of colonial treatment was to assimilate Aboriginal people into Western culture and prevent the transmission of their languages and cultural traditions. However, this has resulted in significant disenfranchisement in subsequent generations. In recent years, Aboriginal peoples have encouraged cultural reclamation and emphasized the need for the transmission of cultural knowledge and beliefs. Currently, little is known about Aboriginal traditions and practices surrounding breastfeeding by Aboriginal women. It is known that breastfeeding rates are lower in Aboriginal mothers, and that Aboriginal people are predisposed to the development of obesity and diabetes, two conditions that may be prevented or mitigated through breastfeeding. Consequently, the purpose of this research was to learn about cultural traditions and practices associated with the decision to breastfeed, with the intent of developing a framework for providing culturally appropriate pre- and postnatal support for breastfeeding by Aboriginal women. A narrative inquiry methodology was used, and two Aboriginal women co-participated with the researcher in developing narratives about themselves while breastfeeding and how breastfeeding was situated in the context of their life stories. The three-dimensional narrative inquiry space was used, with its aspects of time, environment, and interaction. A fourth dimension of bodily experience was added due to the fact that breastfeeding is a physical act. The participants told stories of how breastfeeding became a gift for them to give their children. It assisted them in connecting with spiritual traditions and with the natural world. One participant spoke of how she was adopted as a child and raised outside her traditional culture, only connecting with her birth family and her cultural traditions as an adult. Breastfeeding and childbearing were influenced by her desire to learn more about her culture and pass her cultural traditions on to her children. The other participant spoke of how breastfeeding became a choice that she could make, and how she asserted her independence by making her own choices about breastfeeding and childrearing. Both spoke of the importance of including Aboriginal cultural traditions in order to encourage and empower women, and the necessity of recognizing the impact of colonial treatment on Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal peoples today in regards to breastfeeding and health decisions. Underlying threads of identity, recognition of and respect for Aboriginal ways of knowing, and breastfeeding as a natural experience emerged. This research may provide the foundation for the development of a new framework for Aboriginal women’s health and culturally appropriate health education.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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