First Steps – the Walking Out Ceremony
Video Editor: Charly Gilpin, 2017
Photographer: Beverly Mayappo, June 2008
Narrator: Fred Blackned, March 2017
Location: Wemindji, QC
Collection: Wemindji Culture & Wellness Department
First Steps: The Walking Out Ceremony. Narrated by Fred Blackned
As you know, a very small child is not able to take care himself yet, he is too young.
Over the rooftops of Wemindji we see the Maquatua River and hills on the far side.
That is when we have the Walking Out Ceremony, when the child is still very small.
Inside a traditional dwelling, a teepee made of spruce poles and canvas, two women are laying spruce boughs on the floor and third woman cleans the fireplace.
Outside the teepee it is early morning, a young child is running past the dwelling.
The ceremony is almost always held when the child is at this age, around a year or two.
Back inside the teepee families of the two children are preparing for the ceremony.
The purpose for the Walking Out is that the child’s parents want to teach their child the Cree way of life, Cree skills, and Cree language.
Outside many people have gathered in wide circle around the teepee for the celebration.
Parents would like to pass these skills and knowledge on to their children. That is why they have this ceremony.
Two women emerge from the teepee helping their small sons who are dressed as hunters clothing and equipment though the little rifles they carry are made of wood.
If the parents take the responsibility for this teaching, the child will benefit.
The children are helped to walk in a circle in front of the dwelling, towards the east.
It will help the child to learn. He will begin to understand a lot of our Cree way of life, culture and language.
In front of the woodpile, three geese have been set up. They were saved from the hunt earlier that year for this purpose.
The child will see clearly how to learn and to do things. The little boy is dressed up as hunter. He carries a wooden gun and he “shoots” a goose.
With assistance, the children pretend to shoot the geese. The mothers help them to carry the geese back to the teepee.
In this way the parents begin to teach the child about hunting for food in order to survive and that shooting the goose is one of the responsibilities of the Cree hunters who must provide for their families.
Inside the teepee the geese are given to the grandparents or great grandparents who seated to the left of the door. The elders kiss the children. The mothers take the children around the teepee to be greeted by each person present. Snacks and hot tea or coffee are then shared by everyone who came to the ceremony.
They learn that the Creator talks about the animals, saying, “I made this for you so you may have food and so you can be dressed warmly.”
A flock of geese fly over the site of the ceremony, everyone looks up at them.
Inside the dwelling a woman is plucking the geese that were “shot” by the children and a lot of geese are being roasted around the fire.
If an older woman is in the teepee, she is the one who guides the others in what to do with the teepee, to make it look nice, to make it comfortable.
Women sit on the floor of the teepee around the fire, cooking and making preparations for the feast.
You can’t just do it however you want, it has to be done respectfully. You must listen to the older woman to know how this is done. That is why they dress the little girl like an old woman, so she too will listen and learn from the older women.
One woman is serving up the plates of food, another cuts the cake. The cake has been lovingly decorated with a 3 dimensional scene of water, trees, geese, and a teepee.
Everything on the land grows. When the children step out of the teepee to touch the land for the first time, they will begin to grow, just as everything else grows on the land. Now it will be their time to grow. The family does the Walking Out Ceremony because the child is ready to grow and to learn.
Outside the dwelling we again see the scene of the children and their mothers walking out and “shooting” the geese.
There is a lot that someone can learn by looking at the ceremony.
Fred Blackned, the narrator, sits at a table in a public building in Wemindji talking to us about the ceremony. He looks down at the table, then up towards the ceiling as he chooses his words.
There is a lot that someone can learn by looking at the ceremony. Me too, when I go watch a child walking out, I remember all of that and I hope the parents will continue to teach in this way. One day, when the children are older, they will have to start learning on their own.
Fred looks up with a smile. He lifts a finger to make his final point and looks at the camera as he finishes speaking.
They will learn for themselves how Crees look at the land, at the animals, and at life.
They will learn what needs to be done – and how to do it, in order to live a good life.