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A tree falls, a legend is born: Dene woman believes baby shares connection to sacred tree

Naittii Marlowe was born in Yellowknife on Aug. 10 — the same day a sacred Dene tree came down in a wind storm. Naittii means 'lightning' in Weledeh, the language of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

The sacred tree, connected to Yellowknives Dene legend, fell in a wind storm on Aug. 10

Stacey Sundberg says her sisters told her every time she experienced contractions during her 31-hour labour, lightning would strike, or thunder would boom. (Submitted by Stacey Sundberg)

Lightning struck, thunder roared. The winds whipped at 70 kilometres an hour. A sacred tree fell down. A baby was born.

At 11:34 a.m., Friday, Aug. 10, Naittii Marlowe was born to Stacey Sundberg and Darren Marlowe in Yellowknife. Naittii means "lightning" in Weledeh, the language of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, of which Sundberg and Marlowe are members.

Naittii came into this world mere hours before a tree sacred to the Yellowknives Dene fell to the ground in a storm.

Sundberg says her sisters told her every time she experienced contractions during her 31-hour labour, lightning would strike, or thunder would boom.

I think he's going to start realizing he's going to be a spiritual man.- Stacey Sundberg

The tree, according to traditional knowledge, is between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. It dates back to the time of Yamozha, a Dene hero who, according to legend, used a shovel to break a beaver dam that was flooding the area around the Yellowknife River.

Yamozha stuck that shovel into the ground, and it grew into the sacred tree. Up until Aug. 10, that tree stood near the Yellowknife River.

Dene regularly leave offerings for the tree, and it's common to see coins nestled in the grooves of the bark, or beads hanging from branches.

"People say it's sad the tree fell down," said Sundberg. "But also a baby being born from my community actually brings happiness to some people, some joy to some people, so I think it's like the same for the tree … a baby being born it just came full circle."

'He'll be a legend when he grows up'

'I think this is a one in a million thing where our baby was born when the sacred tree would have fallen down, or something significant happening on our homeland," said Naittii's mother, Stacey Sundberg. (Submitted by Stacey Sundberg)

Sundberg says she's spoken to elders — including her grandmother — about the significance of the event. They say it's rare for a baby to be born during such dramatic weather and when it happens, that baby will grow up to be a special person.

This is a story Sundberg plans to pass along to Naittii, as she teaches him how to pray, the stories of the elders, and Dene laws.

"We pray to the land and the water, to the wind, to the sky, the moon and when we pray like that I think he's going to start realizing he's going to be a spiritual man," she said.

"I think maybe he will teach another generation about who Yamozha was."

Sundberg says she's got a "big job to do" teaching Naittii about spirituality, love and kindness. But she also wants to impress upon him the importance of who he is, and the significance of his birth.

"We'll just have to tell him that he's like a legend," she said. "He'll be a legend when he grows up. When this goes down in history about Yamozha and how he was born on the day the tree has fallen."

The sacred tree on the banks of the Yellowknife river was toppled by high winds earlier this month. (Michael Vautour)

An offering of thanks

When Sundberg was discharged from the hospital, she asked Marlowe to stop by the tree so she could give an offering and say a prayer of thanks to the creator for a healthy baby boy.

She also took a moment to recall how, after Naittii's birth, one of his aunties left an offering at the site and took a piece of the tree to give to the baby.

"I thought it was so special that someone thought of something like that," she said.

"The next time I go there, I will be taking a piece of the tree and put another offering there because, like I said, full circle. I think the tree is so special. Just as special as my boy."

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