According to our Cree beliefs (and from what I understand in my decolonization journey) when a child is conceived they are a gift from Creator. A spirit (acâhk) that has chosen his/her parents to guide him/her in this life. Long ago, before colonization disrupted our practices, a child would be sung into this world by his/her family. Prayers would be said and then a welcoming ceremony would be held to welcome the child into the family and to the community. (There is more than one ceremony for children). When this happened, a baby would belong, he/she felt loved and supported by everyone around him or her. This helped them develop trust and was guided by the family and community in the ways of his/her people.
This was something that I did not realize prior to learning as an older adult. The disruption of our practices came with the loss of feelings of belonging and trust as many families now raise their children alone and many times, away from their community. When my children were born, family members came after to see the babies; my grandparents, mother, siblings, father, aunties, uncles and cousins would make their way to see, talk to them and kiss them. So, in a way that custom is still practiced.
When Andrew was born, Randy cooked a feast and some family members came over. After we were done eating, I asked them to sit around and each of us had an opportunity to pray for him and say what we wished for him as he grew to be a young man. This was the first time, I had ever done that. It was my way of trying to bring back one of the most important ceremonies for a young child born into our world. I wished for him to have a sense of belonging to the Custer and Clarke families. To know that he is loved and that he will have those people in his life to turn to when he needs guidance.
Another practice of wâhkôtowin is how we relate to our immediate and extended families.
When a child is born, they first know and love their parents, then their siblings, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Later, to the land, animals and especially to Creator. According to our way; our cousins are our siblings on the Mother’s side. Our aunties and uncles are our second parents. Grandparents siblings are also our grandparents. When our sibling’s children have children, they then become our grandchildren. The oldest male and female cousins are the oldest siblings of all their cousins “ostîsimaw and omisimaw”. On my Mother’s side of the family, these titles belong to Larry Jr. Sewap (ostîsimaw) and myself (omisimaw). With each relationship comes a responsibility. All my cousins and I refer to Larry Jr. as “nistîs” or my older brother and our cousins all refer to me as “nimis”. I have such respect and admiration to this sense of close relationships with my extended family. There is a strong bond.
When a child is young, they should be taught the titles of their family members as we never addressed to family members by their names. As a sign of respect, they are always addressed by their title. It is considered disrespectful to address by their names and there is a sense of disconnection.
When Scarlett was very young I made her a photo album but unfortunately, I lost it. Last weekend, my sister and I made photo albums with Cree titles for our children. Scarlett’s is shown here.
To make your own you can use: Construction paper, pictures, glue, ribbon and markers. Feel free to experiment. As they get older, add more people along with their appropriate relationship title in Cree.