I met someone new this week and it was a very special introduction. For the first time, I set my eyes on my new nephew Landyn Charlie Kataquapit. He is the brand-new baby of my brother Joseph Kataquapit and his wife Lynda. Little Landyn was born on June 14 at the Timmins and District Hospital at 7:46 in the evening and he weighed in at 6 pounds and 11 ounces.
Everyone commented that this was a hefty weight for a baby born five weeks earlier than expected. Landyn will be having some fun with his older brother Orion and I am sure Joe and Lynda will have twice as much excitement with two boys in the house.
I was happy to reunite with Joe at the hospital when he introduced me to the newest edition to our family. Our sister Janie Wesley was also on hand to help Lynda through the final stages of her pregnancy. Janie has had plenty of education and knowledge handed down from our grandmother Louise Paulmartin, who acted as midwife at many traditional births in the wilderness. She also learned from our mother Susan who has plenty experience in raising nine of her own children.
Lynda also comes from a family of traditionally minded people in her home community of Webequie First Nation and she received much guidance from her parents and family. So it was no surprise that little Landyn’s entry into this world was safe and easy.
As we sat together around the new baby, we talked about when we were born and traditional births that occurred before our people had access to a modern hospital. Even in today’s facilities, giving birth is still a major event in a woman’s life. Imagine what it must have been like to deal with a birth in the wilderness without access to any medical help.
A pregnancy is never an easy thing. However, knowledge passed on from generation to generation on what to do at any type of birth helped to ensure the survival of our people. Every family back then had someone in their group who had enough experience and learning to help the delivering woman when a new member of the family was born.
There were many practices that helped to ensure the health and wellbeing of the mother and newborn baby. Joe explained one tradition that he followed after the birth of his first son Orion. When a child is born the placenta and afterbirth follows immediately and it is separated from the newborn. In modern medical terms, this afterbirth is considered human remains that should be disposed of in a sanitary way. However, in traditional practices, the placenta plays an important part in ensuring the health and future of a newborn baby.
Joe explained that this afterbirth is considered a symbolic part of both the mother and child and that it should be treated with respect and dignity. As a matter of fact, as a sign of gratefulness and for good fortune for the child’s future, the afterbirth is taken out on the land to be buried and symbolically returned to Mother Earth. In the non-Native society the modern procedure is to have human remains, which is what afterbirth is considered, cremated. A traditional Elder would consider this disrespectful.
Our late grandmother Louise described a discarded or cremated placenta as something that becomes lost in the child’s life. She explained that once this is lost without being returned to the earth properly, it becomes something that the child will seek out in his or her lifetime. In the Cree tradition, it was believed that the child who lost this privilege will wander aimlessly through life in search of something they can not have. It is important to have a properly buried afterbirth, as it will ensure that the child’s life will be full, happy and connected to Mother Earth.
During Joe’s first son Orion’s birth, hospitals were less stringent when it came to taking the placenta home to continue practicing this tradition. However, with the arrival of his newest son, hospital regulations have changed. There are new rules that make it more difficult to take possession of the placenta and afterbirth.
I can understand why medical facilities need to keep strict rules on how to handle and release human remains to the public. This comes out of concern as to what purpose or use that these remains will be subjected to. However, I also believe that there should be a balance that respects the wishes of an Aboriginal family to ask for these parts in order to fulfill traditional ceremonies.
Our people have been following this ceremony for generations and we should not have to be forced to beg for what is rightfully ours. As a matter of fact the new rules make it necessary to ship the placenta and afterbirth to a funeral home and they must be picked up by the family there.
One way or the other Joe and Lynda will be taking Landyn’s placenta and afterbirth home and they will perform this ancient ceremony. It would be a good idea for the powers that be to realize that First Nation people follow this traditional practice so that these rules can be changed or adapted to accommodate my people. This is a tradition that connects us to the land from birth.