Musings Upon the Birth of a Grandchild

Guest Commentary

Stephen Wall

stephan_wall300Less than 36 hours ago, my newest grandchild was born. The birth was quite ordinary, although it was my daughter’s first child. My daughter struggled with the labor, wanting the “natural” birth, but then relenting to the pain and getting the pain reduction drugs. And after what seemed an eternity, my grandson made his entrance into the world. His presence in the world has been anticipated, prayed for, and celebrated.

It was very interesting watching my daughter throughout the pregnancy.  Our family has always been very “food conscious”, preferring the organic, maintaining a garden to insure food quality, and resisting the lure of fast foods (maybe I should state “trying to”). Of course, prior to the pregnancy, my daughter totally rebelled against our food standards, often making fun of food choices and not wanting to help in the garden. But during the pregnancy there was a sudden shift. The life growing inside of her brought about a commitment to the values she had grown up with. Suddenly my daughter became focused on insuring that she was providing only the best for her unborn child. She took on the role of food quality control officer for the family. Even her partner, the baby’s father, was reassessing his relation to food due to my daughter’s influence.

But it wasn’t just food issues that took on importance. As her pregnancy progressed, questions of spirituality, cultural values, language, and getting good grades in college all took on an enhanced meaning for my daughter. She maintained good grades throughout her pregnancy and plans to continue her education. And while she has always participated in tribal doings, her baby has brought out an awareness of the future. Questions of language use and learning, participation in the community’s cultural activities, and impacts of education and career choices on the baby’s future cultural identity have arisen. As she has discussed these issues, I realized that my daughter had become a very aware, conscientious young woman, fully capable of taking care of herself and her new son.

So now that the grandson is here, my thoughts extend to the future. For me, grandchildren not only are a joy for today; but also represent an extension of ourselves into a future from which we will be absent. The values and ways of approaching the world are things we provide to our grandchildren. These values and ways of approaching the world will take a piece of us far into the future. I can’t help but wonder what kind of world will my grandson live in? How well will our core family and tribal values serve him in the future?

Hopefully the issues of language and cultural preservation will not be as urgent by the time my grandson comes of age as they are now.  I also hope that we will have made a truce with technology, so that it can be used to develop and enhance tribal communities rather than being a drain on tribal cultural expression. And what about our food and its sources? Will our seeds that have been handed down from the generations before us be protected from attempts at patenting or genetic modification? By the time my grandson is a young adult will we, as tribal nations, have found the way to exercise some level of food and economic sovereignty?

These questions come to my mind because my grandson has come into a troubled world. One in which climate change and technology are having tremendous impacts in tribal communities and those impacts are not always positive. Ecological challenges, economic turmoil, and political unrest are global problems that will frame the world in which my grandson will grow up. Loss of language, low priority of cultural values in tribal communities, and limited economic prospects in tribal communities are local problems that will frame the world in which he will live.

When we “old folks” look at our youth we see so much potential; and we see so much peril. We want only the best for our children and grandchildren. We don’t want them to suffer hardship, yet we know that growth only occurs through challenge. We also know that hardship is often a part of challenge.  We want to take on their hurts; yet we know that they can only learn from the hard lessons of life, sometimes involving some sort of physical or emotional pain. There is so much that we want for our children and grandchildren and yet we know that will live in their world, not ours.

Stephen Wall is chair of the Indigenous Liberal Studies Department a the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a tribal citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, located on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

Editor’s Note:  This writing first appeared in the Vision Maker Meida blog. Used by permission.

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