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Blog

Cradle Boards and Birch Bark

jarrod

     These past few weeks have been filed with both. I've been traveling around northern Wisconsin and Minnesota for teaching gigs on both building cradle board and birch bark work.

     For those of you reading this that do not know what a cradle board is, it's a wooden board that the First Nations of North America used for carrying their children around in. But, there are examples of these used by peoples in most parts of the wooded world from North America to Siberia. It seems that hunter/gatherer peoples had the same need for their children as they moved about the landscape. 
     I've been making these since about 2001,when I signed up for a class here on the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation where I live.The instructor had not been able to figure out how to bend the parts of the board. I ended up helping out and teaching folks how to bend the parts as I had learned about bending wood in the boat shop that I worked at in the late mid to late 90's. After that class I was invited to teach folks how to make them the next year. I've been teaching it ever since. I usually teach a class at least once a year at one of the 4 Ojibwe reserves around northern Wisconsin. This summer seems to be the year for it with 8 classes in a month in a half. I've estimated that I've helped over 200-300 mothers, fathers, or grandparents build these for the children over the years. This past year I've been searching out an apprentice to pass this on to. That search continues.....

     We, my wife April and I  used the board which is called in the local Ojibwe dialect here in Wisconsin "ticanaggan" with our 2 youngest children. One of the things that makes sense about these is that babies loved to be swaddled. It's like the womb for them. The cradle board is the same. The baby feels comfortable in the cradle board because it is like the womb. In the early days of the child's development they do not have good control over there arms and hands. Many of you parents know that they can scratch themselves and wake themselves up with their uncoordinated arms. They are just not used to their own limbs yet. But, the newborn can smell his or her mother from across the room! and recognise their mother's voice as well. Their sight is still blurry but soon improves over a short period of time. When the baby is in the cradle board they don't have to be distracted by their new found limbs, because they are swaddled in the board. This gives them time to develop there mind through their senses of sight,smell,and hearing. After some time the hands are allowed to be free and they then learn how to use them as well. Please keep in mind that they are not in the board all the time, but for a few hours here and there though out the day. After feeding we used to put Ayva our daughter in the board and she would fall asleep and rest for hours at a time. This time for rest is good for growing children and good for resting parents. We found that she sleep more peacefully and for longer periods of time in the board than in a common cradle or on the bed or some such. Children that were raised with cradle boards tend to be more calm and relaxed as older children and young adults.

     In earlier times the board were split out of tree trucks with wooden wedges, and then hewed down to an even thickness with axes, either stone or steel. The bent parts were made from green wood to get them to bend. The bending was also helped along with heat, from fire or boiling water. The entire cradle board was lashed and pegged together with rawhide or some plant fiber cordage and wooden pegs where needed. The blanket or pouch was tanned animal skin and then cloth at later times when available. The cradle board come in all shapes and sizes here in North America as well as Siberia and in Northern Scandinavia but the concept is the same.








This little guy loved his new cradle board




   For the birch bark, I was up at North House Folk school teaching 2 different classes. One was etched birch bark basketry the other was decorated birch bark boxes or canisters. Since my hands are sore from typing and my brain is running short of computer patience I'll leave you with photos from the class. Remember I need stuff to write about in the future so I'll do some more in depth writing on both the basketry and the boxes.