The Milwaukee Pink Shawl Initiative is a non-profit organization that seeks to educate Native American women about breast health, to increase breast cancer screening among Native American women, and to offer support to Native American women breast cancer patients and survivors. The Pink Shawls are creating social change through our innovative approach to health messaging and raising awareness of breast cancer. While much of modern research and health interventions focus on seeking ways to overcome ‘cultural barriers,’ we approach health messaging with the belief that culture is the best resource for educating people about health and the most reasonable way to create long-term change. We have fused the symbols of two cultures to create a culturally meaningful approach to breast cancer awareness using the universal color for breast health awareness- pink- and a traditional Native American symbol- the woman's shawl. Shawls represent women in creation and the feminine gifts of warmth, security and affection. The shawl is a visual reminder about the sacredness of life and the importance of women.
In the winter of 2009, Pink Shawls sought to expand upon our vision by incorporating more cultural elements into our approach to breast cancer education. We sought to increase Native women’s mammography rates by identifying what motivates behavior change in this population. It was agreed that a major motivator is women’s role as caretakers of their families. A young Native girl was a present at this conversation and suggested the creation of a group of Native American girls who work alongside the adult Pink Shawls. This youth group would further our existing mission and add one more element: routinize breast health behaviors in Native American girls. The Junior Pink Shawls (JPS) was born and today serves to boost girls’ self-confidence, develop their leadership skills, and prepare them to be adult women taking responsibility for their own health. They participate in cultural events, educational workshops, and have presented their health messages at Native health conferences. JPS parents and girls meet with the Pink Shawls Executive Board to continually develop the group’s educational curriculum and community service initiatives.
In Native American culture, we believe in children listening to elders, but we also believe in elders listening to children. We believe that nurturing the relationship between adult women and girls in a culturally meaningful way will result in real, sustainable social change. The future of our culture and our movement is dependent upon us and we are committed to ensuring the continuation of both using our best resource: our culture.