Monthly Archives: March 2015

Native American peyote

Native American peyote: can it be useful in ceremonies?

Hello everyone!

I was recently asked about the “hallucinogen cactus with psychedelic properties” so I thought I

Peyote cactus

Peyote cactus

would write a post about it 🙂 What we are talking about here is the Native American peyote. I know that not everyone might agree on the use of peyote and I am still not fully sure where I personally stand on it. Just being honest. But let me make it clear here that I am going to be discussing the use of peyote during Native American ceremonies, not the recreational use of peyote, which is prohibited (not that this stops people…).

What is peyote?

Peyote, or lophophora williathemsii, is a spineless cactus found in southern states and Mexico.

Peyote fruit

Peyote fruit

Unlike a regular cactus, peyote does not bloom regularly, but when it does it produces a pink fuit that is edible. You can see it on the right. The part that is used for consumption are the top buttons that grow on top of the roots. Like the ones below. Peyote contains mescaline, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid. Hence why some people will use it in a recreational way as an hallucinogen. As the mescaline content is higher in dried peyote, it will more often be used in that form by recreational users.

Peyote top buttons

Peyote top buttons

Interestingly, peyote is used to deter predators. How you ask as it has no spines? Well think about it. It contains mescaline, which will make animals who eat it sick. Animals will have a severe allergic reaction to mescaline, deterring them from ever touching or eating peyote again. Today, wild peyote is an endangered species. It grows in cultivated form but its slow growth and over cultivation made it sparse in the wild.

History of the peyote

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact arrival of peyote and when it was first used. Some will say it was there for 2 millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans, while others will place its arrival as early as 3780 BC. So we are working with a range of quite a few years here! However, some recent support, in the form of archeological discoveries, support the latter estimated arrival date. Indeed, specimens of peyote were found in dry caves and rock shelters in Texas, in a context suggesting its use in ceremonies. it was also found in a region corresponding to present day Mexico.

With the arrival of the Europeans arrived the controversy surrounding peyote. Indeed, at the beginning of the 16th century, a Spanish chronicler by the name of Fray Bernandino de Sahagun, documented its use by the Native people (Sahagun was devoted to the culture). He noted his observations of peyote and its use, stating that the cactus would provide visions, which could be scary or enjoyable, lasting 2 to 3 days. Peyote was also taken by people who had long physical journeys ahead of them (walking long distance) or even to give them fighting power, as the peyote would help them sustain and give them the courage to fight as they would not feel fear, hunger or thirst (I hope they still kept hydrated as otherwise dehydration might have added to the visions).


Although Sahagun presented pretty objective observations of peyote and its effects, other Europeans explorers were more suspicious, referring to it as the diabolic root. As some who observed peyote users have more terrifying visions, were frightened by its use. I cannot say that I blame them for being scared but it seems like peyote then became associated with evil. Missionaries and explorers condemned those who had used or use peyote, associating the practice with devil worshiping and cannibalism (!). In an effort to convert the Native Americans, they were routinely asked if they used peyote and those who were “caught” using it, would be “disciplined” (especially with the arrival of the Inquisition).

Over time, some of the southern local tribes died out during the 18th and 19th century and the knowledge of the use of peyote during ceremonies also died down. Tribes of the MidWest tried to revive the use of peyote with limited success (as an attempt to revive traditional practices). Soon, authorities were on the case and sought to ban the use of peyote, and other spiritual rituals such as the Ghost Dance.

In 1965, the American Medical Association (AMA) research showed peyote to be habit forming and was thus added to a list of banned psychedelic substances. However, the AMA ruling allowed peyote to be used within religious rituals/ceremonies. Let’s then look at its use in ceremonies.

Peyote in Native American ceremonies

For centuries, peyote has been used in ceremonies, prayer ceremonies, by Native Americans ceremonyacross the globe. Although ceremonies do vary from tribe to tribe, like many ceremonies, the peyote prayer ceremony is conducted in a circle with a medicine man leading with songs and prayers. Peyote is ingested in a liquid form during ceremonies (grinding the flesh to extract the juice). The peyote juice is passed around in either a gourd or another container. Although I have not tried peyote myself, from what I could read, it does not seem like the taste is liked by many. Further, oftentimes people who are not used to drinking peyote will get physically sick. Indeed the mescaline it contains often leads to vomiting. So one has to think twice here before deciding to go for it…

Why would one attend a peyote ceremony if it tastes horrible and makes you throw up? Combined with the rhythm of the drum and the singing, peyote consumption leads to that trance like state in which one can get visions. Some swear that the clarity they obtain from the visions they got was life changing. Some say that, when in that trance like state, they were able to communicate with ancestors, see their destiny, and see where they needed to go in their life. Therefore, some got answers or help in their soul searching from their peyote experience. While others got terrifying visions they never wish to go through again.


So is it worth it then? Well, in most ceremonies, I find one obtains some sort of clarity. I have found myself in a semi trance like state in ceremonies just from the rhythmic drumming. It calms you down and allows you to just “be there”, not thinking about anything. So I can see how that would open up the door for peyote trances and visions. I think this has to be an individual and personal decision, and it has to be done in a safe space with a medicine man (as opposed to one’s basement alone). My reticence comes from working in the field of addictions and mental health and seeing the effects of mind altering substances on some people. That’s my bias I guess you could say but it does not mean that I do not see how it can be relevant in a ceremonial context.

Have you ever tried peyote? Anyone wants to share their thoughts? Comment below!

Native American tea: a website to visit

Native American tea: a website to visit!

Product: Native American tea company website

What do they offer: They offer a selection of herbal and naturally caffeinated teas made with teepee teatraditional Native American ingredients

Prices: From 3$ to 7.90$

Rating: 4 stars




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Native American hoop dancing

Native American Hoop Dancing

Hello all!

Hoop dancer

Hoop dancer

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!

hoop dancing

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 dancer

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 hoop dancerdance. 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!!




Female Native American actors: Women we can be proud of

Native American female actors: 4 women who are living by example

Hello all!

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 Supernault

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.

Roseanne Supernault

Roseanne Supernault

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

Roseanne in Maina

Ashley Callingbull

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 callingbull

Ashley Callingbull

Ashley Callingbull

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

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

Alex Rice

Alex Rice

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

In the New World







Brenda Schad

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.

Brenda Schad

Brenda Schad

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).

Brenda Schad

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.

All my Relations

Native American models: much more than pretty faces

Native American models: full of heart and pride

Hello everyone!

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…

southwest bracelet

So who are those models and what’s with the hair?

Keith Longhorn

Keith Longhorn-Shawnee

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

Martin Sensmeier

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!

martin sensmeier

 Michael Spears

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.

Michael Spears

Michael Spears

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.


Into the West

Michael Spears and Zahn McClarnon (Standing Rock Sioux)











Adam Beach

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 Beach

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 😉

Adam Beach

Adam Beach

Rick Mora

Well who’s a good looking man? Rick Mora!

Rick Mora

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.

Rick Mora

Rick mora







Michael Greyeyes

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. 🙂

Michael Greyeyes










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?

All my Relations

Apache Sunrise Ceremony

Apache Sunrise ceremony: Celebration of puberty

Hello everyone!sunrise ceremony

After doing some research, I decided to write about a ceremony with a beautiful meaning and spirit: the Sunrise Ceremony also known as a coming of age ceremony within the Apache culture. As information about the ceremony is available online, I felt it was not disrespectful to discuss it here. It seems to me to be more like a ritual, a rite of passage celebrating the coming of age of a young woman. It nonetheless remains a trying ceremony physically as well as spiritually, a ceremony we will examine together.


What is the Sunrise ceremony? What does it entail?

The Apache Sunrise ceremony or na’ii’ees is an arduous 4 day ceremony that an Apache girl goes through after her first menstruation (the “moon cycle”). The ceremony takes place in the summer following the girl’s first menstruation (always begins on a Friday). For four days and four nights, the girls will dance and run into the four directions (symbolizing the four stages of life, beginning in the east). The girls also receives and gives gifts, being introduced to their ability to heal. For over 70 years, however, the Sunrise ceremony was not permitted to be practiced as it was banned by the US government (as were most of native spiritual practices and rituals). With the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, the Sunrise ceremony could openly be practiced on reservations again.

apache girl, sunrise ceremony

Mixture of cornmeal and clay being applied

The ceremony often involves months of preparation and teachings beforehand. Making the girl’s symbolic attire and building the lodge requires time and effort. The girl also has to undergo a physical and demanding regime to strengthen her physical endurance. Her family is also involved, as they provide the food and gifts to those in attendance.

Once the ceremony begins, the girl is guided by the medicine man and her sponsor (a godmother who is spiritually strong and a model of wisdom) through many “events or stages”. This includes hours of dancing (increasing as the days go by) oftentimes in tandem with a partner she chooses. Running is also part of the ceremony with the girl running to the four directions. Overall, it is an intense physical ceremony for the girl. However, it is interspersed with massages from the girl’s sponsor to “mold her” into Changing woman or White Painted Woman (see below). It is also a spiritually intense ceremony, involving numerous hours of singing, chanting and praying.

girl being massaged, sunrise ceremony

Girl being massaged by her godmother during day 2

Finally, as you see from the pictures above and below, the girl is covered (let’s face it is more than a sprinkle) with a mixture of clay and corn meal that she cannot wash off for the four days (a test in mental strength right there!). During the last day of the ceremony, she blesses her people with pollen as well as gets in touch with her healing powers by healing those who seek her touch and blessing.

apche sunrise ceremony

What does the Sunrise ceremony re-enacts?

The Sunrise ceremony re-enacts the legend of White Painted Woman who survived the great flood in an abalone shell and gave birth to 2 sons after being impregnated first by the sun then by the rain. Her sons go on killing the Owl Man Giant who terrorized the tribe. At their return, White Painted Woman let out a cry of triumph and delight, often re-created by the girl’s godmother within the ceremony. Following her sons’ success, White Painted Woman established a puberty rite to be given to all daughters born to her people. When she becomes old, White Painted Woman walks toward east until she meets her younger self, merging into her younger self thus becoming young again and forever repeating the cycle.

A girl who goes through the ceremony of transition into womanhood is believed to be provided with special blessings. It is not for the faint of heart and is taken seriously by the young girl and her family. It involves a lot of preparation and a financial commitment on the part of the girl’s family (in modern days, families often combine so that the ceremony can be performed for more than one girl, reducing financial costs). The selection of a godmother also involves specific steps. Indeed, the godmother is not given any warning as to when she will be asked and is asked in the hours preceding the sunrise. An eagle feather and a turquoise stone are often brought and given in appreciation.

sunrise ceremony

The purpose of the Apache Sunrise ceremony

As one can see, the Sunrise ceremony is an intense one on many levels. Through the re-enactment of the story of White Painted Woman, it helps the young girl connect with her spiritual heritage, oftentimes for the first time. Through White Painted Woman, the girl surmounts her weaknesses and discovers her ability to heal and gets to know her spiritual sacredness and power. The young girl also learns what it means to become a woman. This is done first through the presence of menstruation and with her increase physical strength. I don’t know about you but it seems to me that the young girls going through this ceremony are strong and certainly demonstrate endurance through the training beforehand and the ceremony itself. I would compare it to the Sundance process including the years of preparation and the actual days of dancing.

The Sunrise ceremony, in a beautiful and organic way helps the young girl enter womanhood, experience hard work, heal others and even in the face of hard work and physical exhaustion, to present herself in a dignified and pleasant way. It is a ceremony of giving and receiving for both the girl and the community. It brings people, families and tribes together, providing a sense of unity. Just a beautiful ceremony with a strong meaning.

All my Relations

Native American cradleboards

Native American cradleboards: awesome baby carriers!

Hello everyonecherokee woman with baby in cradleboard

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

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

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!


Kiowa cradleboard

Kiowa cradleboard


Navajo mother with hooded cradleboard

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 cradlebaord

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.

Tobacco prayer ties

Tobacco prayer ties

Hello everyoneprayer ties

As I just made tobacco prayer ties, I thought I would dedicate a post to the tradition and its meaning. As some of you know I am enrolled in a certificate on Aboriginal psychotherapy and complex trauma, which includes ceremonies and the passing on of traditions by Elders and teachers. You can read more about the program here. So today I made prayer ties for 2 reasons. One as part of an offering for healers taking part in an upcoming conference. Second, for a ceremony I am attending tonight, which will be the topic of my next post. The Yuwipi ceremony.

Why tobacco?prayer ties

As you noticed, the title is not just “prayer ties” but rather “tobacco prayer ties”. Why do we use tobacco? Well first off, tobacco is a medicine. Just like sage, sweetgrass or cedar. For the Eastern nation such as Cherokee, Lakota or Cree, tobacco is considered the most sacred medicine. It is the most cherish medicine. Therefore, it is not to be abused or sold for profit. Hmmmm, it sort of does not fit with our present day society no? I personally do not smoke, as I am very sensitive to cigarette smoke (yet love smudging). But I have been told the same thing by both a Cherokee Elder and a Lakota Medicine man, that tobacco is not to be abused. It is to be used within ceremonies. But I respect people’s decisions to use it for other purposes. I just don’t. Thus, tobacco is used as an offering to the person conducting the ceremony or as an offering to the Creator. I have in the past given tobacco to an Elder who was giving me smudge. It’s just the native way of doing things, if you receive something you also give something.

So what are prayer ties and what do they represent?

Well I can only share what I was taught. Again my teaching in this regard comes from Cherokee and Lakota Elders, as tobacco is not used as much by the Western nations such as Coast Salish people. So what you have been taught might be sightly different. Just be mindful that the information I am giving you is not the ultimate truth but rather a version of it. I also want to be respectful of the teachings that were given to me, as not too long ago they were not shared in the English language.

Tobacco ties are basically prayer ties. They are to be thought of as a physical manifestation of a prayer. Why different colors of cloth you ask? Well, each color represents something. Depending on the nation, different colors might be used. Within the Lakota and Cherokee cultures, a white cloth is used for a prayer for healing, a red cloth is used for our ancestors and a yellow cloth is used for giving thanks. Blue and green cloth can also be used. Below you will see mine for tonight’s ceremony. I have 3 white cloth ties as I am praying for healing for 3 individuals. I have 2 red cloth ties because I am praying for someone’s ancestors and mine.

prayer ties

Making a prayer tie

When you make a prayer tie, be mindful of your hands as they will be touching medicine. Begin being aware of them before (you will sometimes see some people shaking their hands before). It is sacred medicine and should be handled as such. Place a small bundle of tobacco at the center of a square piece of cloth. Fold it up as you make your prayer “capturing it” within the bundle. Then tie the bundle with a piece of string or thin cloth. Don’t knot the string, instead use the hitch method. Like you can see on one of mine. Granted my tie is not long enough and I was somewhat struggling to tie it appropriately but do your best.

double hitch

Double hitch

Bring them to a ceremony and give them to the medicine man as an offering so your prayers will be answered. You can also make them at home and offer them to the Creator as you pray or smudge. During a ceremony, the medicine man will often make an altar and tie the or place the prayer ties all around.

Final thought

Women getting their periods, on their “moon cycle“, should not handle medicine. Whether it’s tobacco, a pipe or smudge. As the moon cycle is considered a ceremony of its own, a time where the woman is going through a cleansing. The cleansing needs to happen first before the woman can handle medicine.

I leave you with this video showing the double hitch tying method, the one I used on my tobacco prayer ties. Have you made prayer ties? What is your experience with them? Share below!

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