CASS LAKE — Leech Lake Nation made up for lost time at its annual Welcome Babies celebration held for the first time since 2019 at the Leech Lake Powwow Grounds on Wednesday.
First held in 2018, the ceremony aims to welcome infants and new families to the community and provide resources related to maternal health and early childhood development.
Supported by Leech Lake’s Family Spirit program, Manidoo Ningadoodem, the event is part of efforts to support Native American families and emphasize a sense of community.
“(The goal is) to let people know that they are important, that they are sacred, that they are needed and that they are wanted,” said Family Spirit program manager Birdie Lyons. “So babies know from the start that they are born, they are welcomed into a community and cared for.”
A pipe ceremony opened the celebration followed by several speakers who highlighted “the gift of life” as well as traditional creation stories.
Leech Lake Band member Elaine Fleming shared one such story explaining the origins of the Ojibwa people and how they supported themselves.
“They say that in the beginning, there was first a woman. And that woman was up there,” Fleming said, pointing to the sky. “She was really, really alone and after a while Creation sent her a spiritual man.”
The spiritual man gave her twins although she soon lost them to the man who also left her. Creation sent another male to the female, and she became pregnant with another set of twins, whom Fleming described as the first commonly considered Ojibwa people.
She explained that the animals had invited the woman and her twins to Earth saying they would take care of her and her children.
“That first winter, her babies were starving. So the animals talked about it and the ‘makwa’ (big bear) decided that he would offer himself so that these babies would have life, food to eat, clothing and medicine,” Fleming detailed. “So we are grateful to ‘makwa’.”
Leech Lake Tribe President Faron Jackson spoke about his experiences as an adoptive parent during his address to the 100-plus attendees.
“The greatest gift you can give to the Anishinaabe people is the gift of our children, and we give that gift of love to those children so that they can nourish themselves and heal from much of the trauma that comes with these children. for years,” Jackson said. “We heal to become strong. Not bearing anger or hatred, but being thankful and thankful for the gift of life.
Jackson mentioned the Seven Grandfather Teachings – Anishinaabe character principles passed down from generation to generation. These include love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility and wisdom.
Leech Lake elder Mike Smith Sr. emphasized the importance of the first pair of moccasins a child receives.
“When (the children) start to walk, they are given a set of moccasins and at the bottom of the moccasin there is a hole in the bottom. It gives the child a natural connection and respect for Mother Earth,” Smith said.
Leech Lake member Mike Smith Jr. also delivered remarks on behalf of Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, who was unable to attend in person.
A drum group played a birthday honor song for the babies to close the day’s program part.
Door prizes and goodies for 0-3 year olds and parents were in abundance, and a dozen organization booths were available for attendees to enter their names for raffles and for general information. .
Booths included Beltrami County Public Health, Leech Lake Early Childhood Development, Ball Club Clinic, and Leech Lake Women’s, Infants and Children’s Program, among others.
Attendees from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health also took part in the celebration.
With the expansion of the Family Spirit home visiting program to Leech Lake and more than 100 other tribal communities in 16 states, Crystal Austin, associate director of development for the Center of American Indian Health at Johns Hopkins, spoke about the benefits of the program .
“Family Spirit is an evidence-based home visiting program that promotes maternal health and early childhood development. There are a host of other programs, but this is the only one designed with and for Indigenous communities,” Austin detailed. “Leech Lake and other tribes wanted to use this program as they built their home visitation programs, so they’re using the model.”
According to the Leech Lake Family Spirit website, some program goals include improving parenting knowledge and skills, preparing children for early academic success, and addressing maternal psychosocial risks that may interfere with positive parenting. children.
Reflecting on the day’s festivities, Austin noted the multi-generational interactions.
“The multiple generations of people who show up here with their grandparents and grandchildren, see community leaders invested in making sure their youngest members feel welcome. It’s really beautiful to see,” said Austin.
With attendance growing throughout the early afternoon, Lyon sees this year’s celebration in a special light given the effects of the pandemic over the past two years.
“Some people are still afraid to take their baby out, but for two years we haven’t been able to because of COVID,” Lyons said. “So we are doing two years to welcome babies and give them gifts for their presence here.”
Lyons credited Jackson with being the “brain idea” for the event and hopes it will continue for years to come.
“I’m turning 70 in July,” Lyons added with a laugh. “So hopefully that will continue long after I retire and leave when the sun goes down.”