Abenaki rite of passage welcomes newborns
By David Kawapit and Jaime Little, CBC News
A newborn girl, named Legend, is passed from one person to the next, each one telling her what they will do for her in their lifetime.
This is part of the First Cry ceremony, welcoming newborns to the earth in the presence of the parents’ most trusted family and friends.
Danielle Mukash carries the ceremony, and Legend is her granddaughter. Danielle says it is normal that the baby cry, because she is saying goodbye to heaven for awhile.
“The First Cry ceremony has been done for thousands of years, and the reason why we do this ceremony is that a child that comes into the world is totally pure, but still connected to heaven … We have to honour their arrival to this world,” ” says Mukash.
Mukash grew in Odanak, an Abenaki community on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. That’s where the First Cry ceremony was passed on to her by her grandmother, Lillian Pitawanakwat.
Residential schools and church leaders in some aboriginal communities banned traditional ceremonies, and many were forgotten over the past century. But through dreams and visions they are slowly making their way back into Cree culture, says Mukash.
“It had been forgotten for a long time. I know from experience that ceremonies come back to us when we need them, and they come from the Creator for all of us.”
Mukash married a Cree man from Whapmagoostui, the northern-most Cree community on the Hudson Bay coast.
When their grandchildren were born, Danielle began to perform the First Cry ceremony and since then more and more Cree people have shown an interest in the tradition. Danielle believes the ceremony may have been practised by the Cree people in the distant past but there is no way of confirming that.
Legend’s ceremony is only the third time in recent history that First Cry has been performed in the Cree communities of Northern Quebec.
Matthew Iserhoff is Legend’s father and has taken part in other Cree ceremonies such as the Sundance. He’s passionate about bringing back traditions, and learning new ones.
“The Cree word for child, wash, comes from the word awashthahch, or light. The child comes from a place of light, the home of the Creator, to come to theeEarth.”
Like her son-in-law, Danielle Mukash works to keep the traditions alive.
“All my life, my dad would tell us stories about ceremonies”, she says. “It was so close to my heart, wanting to preserve all the beautiful things the Creator gave us for thousands of years.”
Danielle Mukash says she hopes that more people in Eeyou Istchee, the Cree territory in Northern Quebec, will adopt this powerful ceremony.
And she is open to performing First Cry for other families in her community.