Adam Had’em is known as the shortest poem ever written in the English language. It was written in 1904 by American poet Strickland Gillilan. Oddly enough it was given the title “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes”. This little bit of writing was once a small series of words but it has since grown to encompass many ideas. Keeping with the idea that great things come in small packages I am happy to say that my niece Sara Shisheesh and her partner Silas Wesley just had a new baby boy they named Adam John Nicholas Xavier Wesley. Just like the little poem, tiny Adam is quickly giving new meaning to our large family.
Adam was given his name by his Aunt Renae. He was born at the Moose Factory General Hospital on February 14, 2008 weighing six pounds and 12-and-a-half ounces. The date of his birth was not lost on anyone as he was realized as the Valentine baby. Following the traditional practice of naming new family members in the memory of those who have passed on, Adam John Nicholas Xavier received the name Nicholas in remembrance of Sara’s cousin Nicholas Rose. The new baby’s name Xavier is in honour of his great-grandfather Xavier Wesley, a prominent Elder from our community.
Babies are a big deal in our First Nation families along the James Bay coast. There are many new babies born every year in our communities. One thing that we have done as a people is that we have managed to keep our population up. A generation ago it was normal to see large family groups of four or more children. In my parents’ generation it was common to see families of six, seven, eight or more children. Back then, life was difficult and survival was dependent on skill, luck and numbers. Even though there were many children born, a high infant-mortality rate kept families smaller in size. One of the benefits that was born out of having large families was that through thick and thin with all the difficulties of the European influence and changes that were brought about by a new culture, we have managed to survive one baby at a time.
In our traditional culture, there is never any thought or worry about having a new baby. There are good things about this and there are also negative side effects. However, our First Nations are set up to help and take part in the raising of a new member of the community. Our culture has evolved to fill in the gaps in child care to include other extended members of the family, including aunts, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers who actively take part in the care of new arrivals. In many cases, this participation branches out even further to include other members of the community at large. It is not unlike what old European societies were like hundreds of years ago.
This extended network of helping hands is needed in the raising of a new baby. It is hard work to take care of a new member of the family. In the first months of life, a baby needs constant attention from someone and although a mother or father wants to be attentive, it is demanding to be on-call 24 hours, every day. To share this workload a close family member is always ready to help in caring for a new child. As the new boy or girl grows older and becomes mobile on his or her own two feet, then the work of running after an active young child is shared by many more people.
I am sure Sara and Silas will be learning traditional Cree methods and teachings in how to raise a child in the north. I have already seen pictures of Adam in a Waspoosiyan, a traditional and decorative wrap that keeps a baby warm and bundled. I am sure his grandparents and great-grandparents will want to place him in a Tikinagun, a traditional cradle board that is normally handmade by someone in the community or is handed down as a family heirloom as it is needed.
Giving life to a new person and raising him or her to become part of a family and a community is the most important investment that our society makes. It is my wish for Adam and all the newborns that they will have safe and happy environments. They will be warm, well fed and loved. With a new hope of sober and drug-free lives becoming a reality for many of my family members and friends I see a great future for all our new babies. One baby at a time.