Yukon First Nation's 'baby celebration' welcomes 13 born in 2019

It was a welcoming ceremony of sorts. The Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse decided to throw a party for 13 babies born in 2019.

'It takes a whole community to raise a child, you know,' says Elder Dianne Smith

Ian Kuster and his mom with Kuster's one-month-old son, McKinley Kuster. They were at a special event on Thursday at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation potlatch house to welcome 2019's newborns into the community. (George Maratos/CBC)

Chris Gleason is more than happy to show off his 10-month-old daughter, Alice.

"She's amazing. I can't say enough good things about her, she's just brightened up our lives," he said.

Alice was one of 13 infants celebrated at a special event this week at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation's potlatch house in Whitehorse.

It was a welcoming ceremony of sorts: all of the babies were born in 2019 and the First Nation decided to throw them a party.

Christina Sim of Kwanlin Dün's health and wellness department said the First Nation came up with the idea as a way to support families, build community, and encourage the passing of knowledge. 

"We don't often have focused opportunities to do that, so we felt that having a baby celebration or birthing celebration for families was a good way to start that," Sim said.

The idea behind the event is to help support families, build community, and encourage the passing of knowledge. (George Maratos/CBC)

"It'll be interesting and exciting to see where the community takes that from here."

Thursday's event was for all the 2019 babies, but the idea is to have a similar celebration every month — regardless of how many newborns there are.

"There might just be one, and that family will get lots of attention," Sim said.

Kwanlin Dün Elder Dianne Smith delivered a prayer at Thursday's celebration. 

"This is the beginning of new life for these little babies. And it's a great celebration," she said.

Smith sees it as a way to try to undo some of the lasting effects of residential schools on her community. Elders can pass on valuable knowledge to young families, she says.

'This is the beginning of new life for these little babies,' says Kwanlin Dün elder Dianne Smith. (George Maratos/CBC)

"We have to go back and think about a lot of the teachings that we've lost, and hopefully we will find them so that we can pass it on. 

"It takes a whole community to raise a child, you know."

Chris Gleason agrees — and that's why the event was so important for him and Alice.

"There's not that much connection between elders and the children these days, and any chance that my child can engage with elders from any community is great." 

Gleason also sees it as an essential way to look forward, and build community around positive, hopeful events.

Chris Gleason and his partner Megan with their 10-month-old daughter Alice. 'She's just brightened up our lives.' (George Maratos/CBC)

"A lot of our ceremonies these days seem to be around death — like the potlatch, there's celebrations of life," he said.

"But we don't get to celebrate the happier things, like our children."

Ian Kuster agrees. He was at Thursday's event with his one-month-old son, McKinley Kuster.

"Between my girlfriend and I, we've lost probably over 60 people the last five years, right? And that's all we've been seeing family about," Kuster said.

"We need something like [this] to celebrate being here and enjoying life to its fullest." 

The plan is to hold similar events every month. (George Maratos/CBC)


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated 19 babies were born in 2019. The First Nation later changed its numbers to 13 babies born that year.
    Feb 03, 2020 11:23 AM CT

Written by Paul Tukker based on interviews by George Maratos