How is everybody’s New Year so far? I do wish you all many moons of happiness, love and tranquility 🙂 I know I am praying for all of this myself. So here we are in 2016, this site being almost a year old! How exciting!! I have posted over 100 articles here about a variety of topics. I have had guest writers and partnerships in writing. I have discussed the traditions, the history, the beauty and trauma of the Native American people, of the Indigenous people of the land. I have also introduced a few art pieces, Native artists as well as reviewed products I bought. And here we are and I still have ideas 🙂 As I have mentioned a few times, I live in the Pacific Northwest, on the West Coast of Canada. I am not only surrounded by the Plains and Prairie people but also by the Pacific Northwest culture. Or cultures, I should say. And one of the most beautiful designs in my eyes is the Chilkat (you pronounce the “t” at the end) pattern. Chilkat weaving is just a gorgeous form of art that stands out. Let’s then explore the origins of the Native American Chilkat weaving.
Native American baby swing: greatest tradition ever!
How is everyone!
For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you probably came across a recent picture of a Native American baby swing. Many posted their experience using one or being in one as a kid themselves. Some even sent me their own personal pictures, some posted below. And for that I am very grateful! Sharing their personal memories with me and then you. That touches me. So today, we will be focusing on the baby swing. Information on it, its origins and intended purpose is scarce. Very scarce but here is what I have put together from what I have found and the stories of those who shared with me. Here we go, the Native American baby swing: the greatest tradition ever!
Holiday shopping ideas: Gifts for everyone on Etsy
I hope your week is going great 🙂 If you are like me, you are just realizing that the holidays are basically less than a month away and that you need to get your butt in gear and buy gifts for your loved ones! I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Native crafts and arts fair a few days ago and bought a few presents (for myself too….). But holy crap is time going by fast! So I thought I would review and discuss one of my favorite sites of all time: Etsy. Here I introduce some of my favorite shops or items on Etsy and discuss holiday shopping ideas 🙂 And of course, the articles and shops chosen will be Native American or Native American inspired. But also check out their Holiday Gift Guide, full of shopping ideas for everyone! But here I want to focus on moms. Your mom and all moms. Those hard working women who need and deserved to be spoiled. What they would want for themselves as well as their little ones (and not so little ones…).
I hope you are doing good and are enjoying all of what Mother Earth has to offer 🙂 For those of you who do not know, I live in Vancouver, BC, a city filled with the Native culture, the culture of the Indigenous Pacific Northwest native people but also of a lot of different nations. The cultures are alive and there to be known. And I think that is just awesome that I get to live in such a place! In this beautiful city, there is also an equally beautiful famous park named Stanley Park. It is a gorgeous park surrounded by the Pacific ocean with numerous attractions for all. Including the Vancouver aquarium, a pool, a lighthouse and most importantly beautiful displays of Native American art. Yes I am taking about beautifully crafted and carved totem poles. A whole bunch of them for your viewing. Indeed, Native art is everywhere to be seen in this city I live in. Let’s discuss this Pacific northwest art, more specifically Native American totem poles.
totems in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
Native American art in Vancouver
I love my city and I cannot hide it 🙂 The Native culture is so alive in Vancouver that no matter where you are, you will see beautiful displays of art. From your arrival at the Vancouver international airport, you will be surrounded by sculptures and totem poles made by local artists. See a few examples below. Those sculptures are scattered throughout the airport and provide a wonderful sight to visitors. As for me, they represent home.
Raven house posts by Roy Henry Vickers, red cedar-1990
Flight Spindle Whorl by Susan A Point, red cedar-1995
Once one leaves the airport, it only takes a walk through the city core to run into randomly placed Northwest Native sculptures literally on the corner of streets. Public art is alive and colorful. Each sculpture comes with a title and the artist name. Believe me I tried finding pictures of them but I was not able to. I have to say that most of them are of birds such as an eagle. Not all of them have a native design but some do. I will just have to go take a picture of some of them and add them later 🙂 But how cool is that? Public art right on the streets. Native art is so present in Vancouver that pretty much every prison I have worked in had a totem pole!
totem pole Stanley park
And then there is Stanley park. A little piece of heaven with 8 km of trails alongside the ocean (called the Sea wall). Kind of hard to beat that one….Stanley park is just perfect for an afternoon picnic, a visit to the aquarium, a day at the pool or the beach OR for an afternoon looking at the beautiful Pacific Northwest art on display. Literally in the middle of the park. Indeed, the totem pole display is one of the main attractions. It features beautiful pieces by local artists. The display began in the 1920’s with just 4 totem poles from Alert Bay on the Vancouver Island. The display grew over the years, with the addition of totems from the Queen Charlotte islands, also called the Haida Gwaii islands (hence the name Haida art) and the Rivers Inlet. Some poles were actually carved in the late 1880’s and were loaned to the park.
Serendipity and Orchids
Finally, greeting you at the entrance of the display, you will find the Coast Salish gateways, carved by local artist Susan Point (see her work at the airport above). On the inside, male and female figures greet visitors with the traditional Coast Salish greeting (raised and outstretched arms).
Coast Salish greeting
On the outside, you will see a dancer with a sea serpent rattle and a thunderbird on top and on the picture below you see three grandmothers facing six grandchildren.
dancer and thunderbird
grandmothers and grandchildren
A bit of history on Native American totem poles
Well before we start, let’s clarify that contrary to what some people think, totem poles originate and can mostly be found on the West Coast of Turtle island. Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. Those are the type of places you will find totem poles. Plains or Southwest Indians did not carve totems. Why? Well just think of the types of trees on the West coast. Freakishly tall ones! With lots of good wood for carving such as cedar. Therefore, carvers will be mostly Northwestern or Alaskan. Not all of them but most of them. There is also a debate on whether or not totem poles existed before the arrival of Europeans. It is hard to prove as wood decays over time. But most oral stories will say that yes totem poles did exist before the arrival of Europeans. However, the size of totems probably grew with the arrival of woodcarving tools.
So yes in BC, totem poles are everywhere. There is even a gorgeous one in front of a flooring store two minutes from my house! They are scattered throughout the province. They are gorgeous pieces of native art, if not expensive pieces of art. Probably some of the most expensive native art you will find. But just think of the quantity of wood used (often cedar) and the amount of time spent on carving and painting it. Then the price makes some sense. For example, when I worked for a school district, two artists set up camp in one of the school’s yard to carve a totem. They were there for a week straight working away. And that is for a unpainted totem….For totem poles of different sizes though, you can visit this site for work from Alaskan artists.
Thunderbird and killerwhale totem
What about the animals?
On many totem poles, you will find animals. Now we have to think in terms of relations. What I mean by that is that animals are our relations, as we are all related. Thus animals including birds are there to guide us. We just need to listen. Animals accompany us throughout our life. Depending on what is going on in your life, you might notice a certain animal more frequently around you or you might feel a connection to a certain animal. Those are situations that one needs to pay attention to. The animals will guide you and help you complete your journey. I can say that for me, I often see or hear birds such hawks. Owls also have a special meaning to me. Both are thought to be messengers and related to intuition. Hawks and owls are also known for their clairvoyance or insight. Further, owls are related to deception and bad events. However, they can also warn against bad events and foresee some. They sometimes come to warn you. Some say that owls are a sign of death. But I see it more as a bird that foresees, warns and helps you see all sides of a situation or a person.
Anyhoo…. that is just me. But it is worth paying attention to your relations around you, see if you notice a pattern or one who is popping up more often. How does this all relate to totem poles you ask? Well sometimes people will say that they have a totem animal or a spirit animal. What they mean is that they connect to one animal in particular and that animal is their guide. There is a connection with that particular animal. Whether in reality, in dreams or in characteristics. You can also type in “what is my totem animal” in Google and you will find a ton of quizzes to find out. They vary in length and I would not vouch for their validity. I tried a few and got wolf, deer and eagle…So just go with your own experience, see if you feel a connection to a particular animal or bird. It does not have to be an animal you spend a lot of time with, but more of an animal which lessons you are open to. For some of you, you will know right away what your animal is. For others, it will not be such a quick process. Think of an animal that you see or hear in your life, one you feel a connection to, one you see in dreams, one you collect figurines of, one who might have attacked you in the past. And if you cannot come up with anything, then take the quizzes 😉
Any thoughts about totem poles? Ever seen some from up close? Comment below 🙂
Hello all and happy Aboriginal day! Yes on this June 21, it is Aboriginal day in Canada! A day
Teepees were erected in the park I went to today
dedicated to the traditions and culture of the First Nations people. In this post, I want to explore more in depth the meaning and significance of the day, my experience with it. So here we go!
What is Aboriginal day?
Well according to the Government of Canada, Aboriginal day, June 21, is “a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples”. As those are the three recognized groups of Aboriginal people in Canada. For more on Metis people, see this post of mine.
Each Nation, group, tribe, however you choose to call it, though, has its own traditions, stories, language and they all need to be celebrated. Thus Aboriginal day is a day of celebrating heritage, traditions, culture, beliefs and language of all Aboriginal people.
How did it begin?
Well if you ask me, it is about time there is a dedicated day of the year to the original people of the land, to the Indigenous people of this land. The ones who were there long before Canada was “discovered”. But the process officially began over 30 years ago, in 1982, when the Assembly of First Nations (then called the National Indian Brotherhood, a cool name if you ask me) asked for the creation of a day dedicated to the First Nations people of Canada. They then called it the National Aboriginal Solidarity day (another cool name if you ask me).
Following suit the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also made a case for a day designated to First Nations people in 1995. And…. finally, the Sacred Assembly, a national conference of both Native and non-Native people asked for the same, a holiday to recognize the contributions of the Indigenous people of this country. FINALLY, 14 years after the National Indian Brotherhood made a plea, National Aboriginal day was proclaimed in 1996 by then Governor General Romeo Leblanc. A mere 14 years to come to a decision. That was quick….not
Little one at Aboriginal day
That’s all fine and dandy but why June 21?
Ah good question there! Well June 21 is the Summer Solstice and within the Native culture, every change of season is important and recognized. Especially the solstice and equinox. The Summer Solstice is when the “light overcomes the darkness”. If we think about the Medicine wheel it is the change in the south direction. The south direction is a direction associated with adolescence, growth, of growing outward, as we find ourselves. And think about everything that grows in the summer time. Mother Earth is at her fullest, resources from the Earth are plentiful, the harshness of winter is over. It is a time to celebrate. And Aboriginal people know how to celebrate!
So across the country you will find events with drumming, dancing, singing, story telling, arts and crafts and of course Bannock! I went to one event today and you should have seen the line to get bannock! Holy crap, it was almost a kilometer long! But again, why was there only one bannock stand? Like really, come on people! So no I did not get bannock but got a whole bunch of cool art directly from the artist, Mike Dangeli, a very talented West Coast artist (Nisga’a,Tlingit and Tsimshian Nation) with nice west coast style tattoos. Click on his name to know more about him 🙂 I will make the office one heck of a cool Native office!
Example of West Coast style tattoo
What is your experience with Aboriginal day? Any favorites? Or is this new to you? Share below 🙂
If you follow my Facebook page, you know that I regularly attend Pow wows. And I have to say that one of the most spectacular dancing I have seen is Native American hoop dancing. I mean it’s almost like watching an acrobat in a circus but one wearing beautiful regalia and telling a story. I don’t say this in a derogatory fashion but rather with admiration. So today, I want to talk about the story of the Native American hoop dance. And let’s get something straight right away: native hoop dancing is NOT like hula hoop dancing.
Where does the hoop dance come from?
Well there are different versions of how the hoop dance was created. It is centuries old for sure and it is a story telling dance (more on that below). As for its origins, some will say that the Creator gave wooden hoops to a dying man from the Plains, who wanted a gift to leave behind. Another origin comes from the Anishnaabe culture. A little boy did not have the typical male interests as he preferred to be alone and watch animals. Therefore he was shun by his father and earned the name Pukawiss “the unwanted”. However, the little boy continued to study animals and their movement, such as eagles, bears, or snakes. In no time he was copying their movement, spinning like an eagle in flight for example. He then went on to create the Hoop dance and taught it to others to teach them about the ways of the animals. Simply put, it was a hit and everyone wanted in!
So what does the Hoop dance represent and what does it involve?
The hoop dance is done with as many hoops as 40 and is performed by a single dancer. Yes you read that right. 40 hoops!! Used by one person! The hoops are used dynamically and in a static manner (like the picture above in which you can see spheres created by the dancer). The dance typically begins with one hoop though. If you think of a hoop, well it is a circle and we now know that the circle is a very significant shape within the native culture. It represents the sacred cycle of life, the never ending cycle. The Medicine wheel, the four stages of life. As well as the interconnectedness of us all, the fact that we all are related, part of a circle. The hoops represent all the elements that come together, the elements being connected. Slowly, hoops are added representing different elements, including animals, other humans or the life elements such as water or air or even life events such as marriage. The hoops and movements of the dancer are evocative of animals movements. Indeed, the formations made with hoops can represent wings or a tail for example.
Hoop dancing today
Hoop dancing has evolved over time and has incorporated techniques or even accompanying music that can be non traditional. The dance is now very competitive (and danced with more rapid movements theses days it seems) but for some nations is considered to be a healing dance. Hoop dancers do not take classes or learn watching videos. They learn typically from a more experienced dancer. Not all dancers dance alike and not all of them will share the same vision of the dance. Different styles are then out there.
And dancers do not buy their hoops. You should not be buying dancing hoops in a store. Making native american dancing hoops is an art and each hoop is made by hand. Different colors are used either to match the dancer’s attire or due to a specific significance. One thing is for sure, learning how to make hoops is an honor that one should cherish.
In conclusion, hoop dancing is a form of story telling, it is an expression of a culture, a connection to the past and an embodiment of the concept of All my relations. It is a passing on of traditions from past generations to future generations. It is an art form that will outlive all of us. I leave you with a video of world championship hoop dancer, Brian Hammill. The quality could be better but the dancing is spectacular. You can actually see the animals in his dancing. He also explains his vision of hoop dancing. Definitively worth watching! Wow!!
Native American female actors: 4 women who are living by example
Following my post from yesterday about male Native American actors/models, I kind of had to write this post…Things have to be equal for everyone right? When I first started looking into Native American women actors or models, I found myself looking at numerous pictures of women in bikinis or very little clothes. I was shocked, and disappointed, as most of the women I saw were not proudly showing their heritage and culture. But then one had to ask, how does one show their heritage? Well, I don’t think that one has to be in full Pow wow regalia to do so but one also has to be somewhat modest (yes not a very popular word in the acting world).
I mean it might just be me, but I think that using your heritage to justify a photoshoot of yourself wearing only a head hand with a feather and bikini bottoms, is not my definition of proudly showing your culture. But again, thinking back of the pictures included in my post about male models, this might be a double standard. However, the men I presented within that post were proudly showing their heritage, in a more respectable manner, even if they were also showing some skin.
That being said, I did find 4 amazing Native American ladies who truly do the native culture justice. They live by example by following the Red Road themselves and being engaged in their community. Let’s see who they are.
Roseanne is a East Prairie Metis woman, originally from Alberta, now living in British Columbia. She certainly is a beauty! All of her life, she has lived the native way, immersing herself in the First Nations culture as a teenager.
She grew up in a large family and was raised by a single father, within the Metis/Cree culture. To know more about the Metis nation, read this post. Roseanne has played numerous roles on the big and small screen, including the title character in Maina, an historical film about the daughter of an Innu leader, held captive. More recently, she began writing screenplays, being accepted into the Aboriginal Filmmaker Fellowship. She is also well known for her role in the APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) series, Blackstone, now in its fourth season. Blackstone is a series about life on a reserve (Blackstone First Nations), with its beauty and trauma, events some of the actors have gone through themselves. And this brings us to our next female actor…
Roseanne in Maina
After reading about Ashley, her past and present life, I have to say that I love this woman! Girl crush 🙂 Such a great role model. And a tall one (she is 6′ tall!). Ashley was born in Enoch, Alberta and is part of the Enoch Cree nation. Her past is loaded with violence, trauma, growing up on a neighboring reserve, the Hobbema First Nations reserve. She survived abuse, including sexual abuse, as well child poverty.
Ashley overcame those dire conditions and actually began modeling, including in Native pageants. She also worked on the APTN series Blackstone, portraying a positive high school student.
Ashley speaks candidly about her own past, how she survived and used her experiences to guide her work. In her own words, what is portrayed in Blackstone is real and raw, it happened to her and it happens every day to real people on a reserve somewhere. The trauma is real, it is not exaggerated. Watch the interview with Ashley below. It is definitively worth it. Beautiful inside and out for sure.
Alex Rice is a Mohawk First Nations from Kahnawake, Quebec. Alex’s family history is a unique and important one. She is a descendant of the Rice family, whose two boys got taken captive as little kids and were later taken to Kahnawake and adopted and raised by Mohawk families. Although born in Kahnawake, Alex spent most of her childhood in Brooklyn, NY, as her father was among a community of Mohawk ironworkers.
Throughout her career, Alex has remained close to and proud of her Mohawk heritage. She is
known for her role as Jane Pete in three movies (opposing the gorgeous Adam Beach, also Canadian). She is also know for her portrayal of Sacajawea in the IMAX movie “Lewis and Clark, great journey west”. She was recognized by both the American Indian Film Institute and the First American awards. She also had a supporting role in the movie The New World, alongside Colin Farrell and Christian Bale (good coworkers to have…) a historical drama depicting the story of Pocahontas (and much more). All and all, a classy and proud woman this Alex!
In the New World
And this brings us to our last leading lady: Brenda Schad. Brenda is a Cherokee-Choctaw born in Texas. She was however adopted by a military family in her early years and spent her childhood traveling all over the USA. She was approached at age 15 in Japan to become a model. She attended university in Japan, while never forgetting her native heritage. Indeed, she founded the Native American Children’s fund of Oklahoma.
The non profit organization helps provide school supplies and clothes to Native American children. The project also helps high school seniors living in limited income families with expenses related to graduation.
Brenda also took part in one of the largest group of Native Americans petitioning in Washington against further budget cuts to the reservations. An overall active member of the native cause as well as a model. Once again, a strong native woman proud of her heritage (which she did not leave behind after being adopted).
So what do you all think of those 4 fantastic women? Much more than models or actors aren’t they? I just love seeing women (and men) embodying the culture, living on the Red Road and using their past to grow stronger.
In the past week, looking around on the web including on Pinterest, I saw numerous pictures of Native American models, might they be male or female. Although, even though I was not looking for it, more pictures of male models came up (hey, I am not complaining!). On some of those pictures, the models would be dressed in traditional attire. It made me remember being annoyed in the past when I would see the portrayal of native people in movies or festivals. Back then, I would think: “why do they need to portray the people in such attire and war paint on” for example. At the time, I thought or perceived it as being degrading, demeaning or condescending, as though native people were all savages.
But then, the more I learned about the traditions, the culture, the people, the more I would experience pride and happiness when seeing those portrayals. Because guess what? The traditional dress, the paint on, the feathers, the leather wraps, well those were all worn by our ancestors. My mindset changed, to one seeing it as degrading to one seeing it as prideful and powerful. As long as it was done in a respectful manner not in a “costumey way” (because some people have not earned the right to wear certain regalia or head dresses). Because traditional dress or regalia is beautiful, oh so beautiful and meaningful. And it needs to be respected as it is powerful. And I now loooove seeing Native American actors or models in traditional attire, being proud of their history, culture and heritage. The way I dress has also changed with time. I wear more traditional things such as moccasins, feathers, bead work jewelry, turquoise. I wear the modern day version of what was worn by my ancestors I guess I could say. Below is the latest bracelet I bought 🙂 Just love it. You can buy it here, in the Etsy LJ Greywolf shop. But I digress…
So who are those models and what’s with the hair?
Ok so who are those Native American models and can we see pictures is probably what you are asking yourself right now. Just a sec, getting there. I just want to point out that as you will notice, the models all have long hair. Surprising isn’t it? Not really, if one knows the importance of long hair for native men. Hair is seen as an extension of ourselves, of our spiritual side and thoughts. Just like a tail will guide an animal, long hair, “a tail”, will guide the one wearing it. Strength comes from it. For many years, Native people were forced to cut their hair by their oppressors. Just think of the Indian Residential or boarding schools, where children were striped of their native identity with new clothes and short hair. So hair is sacred and used in ceremonies as well. It is decorated and fasten in elaborate hairstyles in different ceremonies for example.
Hair can also be involved in nation specific rituals. For example, a Sioux man once told me that it is tradition for Sioux men in his tribe to cut their hair when a family member passes on to the happy hunting grounds. The cut hair is then brought into a sweat lodge and prayers are made. Only then can the man who cut his hair begin his mourning, after the proper respect has been given. Isn’t it a beautiful tradition? For more info about the significance of long hair within the native culture, you can read this article. As I now want to get to the beautiful people below 🙂
Martin Sensmeier, the Eagle boy
Martin, Martin, Martin, known to some by the nickname of “the Eagle boy” after the picture on the right. Who is he you ask? Well Martin is a Tlingit native of Yakutat, Alaska. He is a model, actor, hunter, youth advocate, proud native man. Martin is involved within the native culture, advocating for the well-being of native people across Canada and the USA. He is a member of the Native wellness institute (which participates in conference about youth advocacy amongst others). He comes from a small community, in which he feels right at home and is just really devoted to the Native community. He gives his all in everything he does and as we can see he certainly attends to his physical wellness 🙂 He also attends to his mental, spiritual and emotional wellness. Ok enough said, this is not a personal ad, but I am sure he likes long walks in the woods…The man is the total package!
Ah Michael, such a talented man and well known within the Native community! A Sioux actor (from the Lower Brule tribe from South Dakota), model and a traditional singer with a gorgeous voice. A drummer who often performs in Pow wows as well as a public speaker who often discusses the native people, youth mentoring and sustainable energy.I have personally watched a few videos of Michael speaking or singing and they always move me.
Along with his brother Eddie, he has modeled in the past and he is mostly known for his role in Dancing with the wolves (he played Otter, his debut role). He was also part of the TNT Steven Spielberg mini-series Into the West, which aired in 2005. You can see him with one of his co-stars in that mini-series below.
Michael Spears and Zahn McClarnon (Standing Rock Sioux)
Adam, a fellow Canadian, is a Saulteaux first nations actor originally from Manitoba. He grew up on the Lake Manitoba/Dog Creek First Nations reserve in Lake Manitoba. At the age of 8, Adam lost, within weeks of each other, both of his parents tragically. Adam spent the rest of his childhood with family members. Beach has portrayed numerous Native American characters on the big and small screen.
Adam in Squanto: a warrior’s tale-he played Squanto
Although it might not have been his most memorable or biggest role, the role he played that touches me the most, is his role in the HBO films’ adaptation of Dee Brown, Bury my heart at Wounded Knee. In the movie, Adam plays Charles Eastman, a Sioux advocate and medical doctor. Although Adam has been sporting a short hairdo in recent years, I chose a picture of him with long hair below. I can honestly say that I never imagined myself with a man with long hair until I finally realized the importance of long hair within the native culture. Long hair men it is 😉
Well who’s a good looking man? Rick Mora!
Ladies, he sure is a looker 🙂 Rick was born in LA and until the age of 7 lived on a farm with no electricity and only a wood burning stove. He returned to civilization (his words) at age 7 and later obtained his BA from California state university. Somewhat resistant, he met with a modeling agent, whose idea was to brand Mora as “the Native man” in the modeling business.
Mora has since then been in numerous commercials and even had a small role in the Twilight series, which helped further his acting career. He then worked in collaboration with the Spears brothers. He also was the voice of Young Turok (along with Adam Beach) in the animated project Turok: Son of Stone.
And….. if you go on his website, you will find posters and prints of Rick Mora for sale! 1, 2, 3, go! Check it out here.
Ok one last gorgeous man! Michael is also a Canadian actor, a Plains Cree from Saskatchewan.
Not only did he complete a Master’s degree, he is also a graduate of the National Ballet School. He later joined the Corps de Ballet as a full member.
His acting career began with a role in TNT “Geronimo” in 1993, and blossomed in numerous shows. He also co-hosted the 1999 Aboriginal Achievement Awards. Pretty much all of his roles were of native men. Personally, I love his smile, his shiny hair, and his education. 🙂
So here we are, now knowing 5 beautiful Native men who are proud of their culture, heritage and are not afraid to portray it on the big and small screen. With this post, I wanted to help you discover native american male model/actors who are much more than a pretty face. They embody the native way of life. What are your thoughts?
Native American cradleboards: awesome baby carriers!
For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you will have seen pictures of native women with their babies in what looks like a wooden baby carrier. Just like the absolutely stunning Cherokee woman on the right with her cute baby. What the baby is in is called a cradleboard my friends. And they were awesome! Let’s start by looking at what a cradleboard is and why it is awesome.
What is a cradleboard?
Well a cradleboard, also called a baby carrier or baby board, is a Native American baby carrier.
Child in cradleboard-1925
It is sometimes referred inaccurately as a papoose from the Algonquin word papoos, meaning child, or more accurately Native American child. Hence why a cradleboard is not a papoose….
If you look at the happy child on the right, you will notice that he is all bundled up. Kids on cradleboards would be swaddled (all wrapped up tightly in a blanket so that even their arms are inside the blanket) and then strapped to a board. The board could be made of wood or even tightly woven basket fiber.
The swaddling of the infant or newborn would allow the baby to stretch out, as most newborns, when laid flat on their back will do the fetal tuck (knees go up on their chest). However, there has been some controversy regarding the act of swaddling a child and its effects on leg and hip development. It seems like the problem was mostly the improper leg support, rather than the swaddling itself. Being swaddled is actually typically soothing for infants, it’s comforting, reminiscent of being held tightly by their mother. And as the baby grew, their arms would typically be left free so they could play with a toy. Older children were not carried in a cradleboard but rather allowed to play on the ground.
But it is much more than a baby carrier!
Nez Perce Cradleboard
Oh yes it is! If you think about it, native american children were adored (I am not saying that kids these days are not). From their first clothes, to their toys and the cradleboards they were carried in, everything looked like a work of art! Cradleboards were typically not a simply wood board. Oh no! They were adorned and you will see different styles, depending on the nation. Some had a “hood” to protect the child from the elements or protect their head should the cradleboard fall. Sometimes, a toy would dangle from the hood (like on you would find on a stroller or mobile) or medicine could be attached to keep mosquitos away. Good luck charms or amulets to protect the baby could also be attached to the hood. It was not unusual to have an amulet hanging from the cradleboard. An amulet containing the baby’s umbilical cord, meant to protect the baby and bring health. Moreover, some cradleboards included leather, embroidery, bead work, painting, you name it. Just look at the Nez Perce cradleboard on the right and the Kiowa one below. Such care went into them!
Navajo mother with hooded cradleboard
The care that went into making them (a family member would typically make it) showed the love for the new addition in the family. It represented the notion of new life, community, family and even tribe. Infants were carried on their mother’s back during long walks or even dances. I have personally seen very young infants strapped to their mother’s back during Pow wows, right in the midst of the dance floor. It is such a beautiful sight!
But how would the baby stay in?
Because of how they were made, cradleboards allowed the mother to carry the child on her back, in her arms (for the smaller cradleboards) or even propped up on the floor like our modern day baby chairs (the Kiowa one above could be propped up). The babies were attached to the cradleboard in different ways. Some boards had a leather or cloth bag attached, in which the baby was placed (like the Nez Perce one). Others had leather straps or cords attached to the board, which were used to secure the baby to the board (like the Navajo baby above). Sometimes straps were laced up in the middle (like in the picture above taken in 1925). In other words, there was no way that child was falling out!
I see cradleboards as having provided much more than a practical way to carry a child or physical protection for the child when traveling. They were a way to express love for the child as well as spiritual protection. They were an expression of traditions, culture and a way to embody and carry on the family spirit as well as the community spirit.
Kiowa mother with child in cradleboard
Had you ever heard of the cradleboard? What do you think of it? Leave your comments below! You can also find some cradleboards (and related objects such as tiny cradleboard earrings) on Etsy.