Model Tikanaagan (mid 20th c.)
This is either a model or toy tikinaagan. It shows one of the ways Anishinaabeg and Cree parents kept infants safe and comfortable. Swaddled in “moss bags” containing absorbent moss and warm furs, and then secured to the sturdy backing, the babies could be easily carried on one’s back and kept close during family activities. The cross bar at the top prevents injury should the tikinaagan fall over, and dreamcatchers or eye-catching decorations can be hung from it for the baby.
This tikinaagan has been involved in a partnership between the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT) and the University of Toronto called “Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections.” Using an artifact collection stewarded by First Story Toronto at the NCCT, researchers from the University are working with Cree and Anishinaabeg seniors living in Toronto to encourage the seniors to share stories of their lives, knowledge and skills. In response to the seniors’ enthusiasm, the original series of artifact handling sessions and talking circles were expanded to include guest speakers, local museum visits, beading and porcupine quillwork sessions, a research conference, and even two trips: a week-long visit behind-the-scenes at the Smithsonian Institution, and a two-day behind-the-scenes visit to the Canadian Museum of History. The partnership was originally designed to highlight seniors’ life experiences and explore the relationship between artifacts, memory, and heritage building. After more than 18 months of bi-weekly meetings with the seniors, our group has come to see how this program provides opportunities for intellectual, physical and emotional well-being. The seniors speak of the project in ways similar to continuing education: as an opportunity to learn new things, to become familiar with a range of aboriginal experiences in Canada, to hear different perspectives on styles and techniques. They feel pride in the ingenuity of their ancestors, and admire the craftsmanship evident in the artifacts. Meaningful relationships are growing between the seniors and younger First Nations researchers. We share healthy meals every time we meet. The seniors monitor each other’s health. We all experienced a tremendous sense of achievement and self-sufficiency through our fundraising efforts for our travel.
The artifacts used within the project and the artifacts encountered at museums often attest to the ways families cared for relatives, which include humans, animals, plants, earth, water, moon, sun and spirits: tikinaagan to keep babies safe, moccasins to keep feet warm and dry, fish hooks to provide nutritious food, and souvenir arts to supplement family incomes.
Evelyn Wolfe, Brunswick House First Nation
I was raised in one of these and so were my brothers and sisters. We stayed in them for a long time. I can remember dangling from a tree in one of these, while I watched what was going on underneath, and I watched my brother and sister hanging from a tree in one of these – on a branch – so we could… We come from an observational culture and you start observing at that age. Before you could talk or before you could do anything else, you learn to watch.
… I have cradle memories. And I can remember distinctly hanging in a tree and watching my mother lace up the beaver skin on the round stretcher – to stretch it, clean it and then she’d let it dry. And putting fox or marten in the other kind of stretcher. She’d turn it inside out, to clean it, dry it and then turn them right-side out before selling them.
I raised my children basically non-Aboriginal. Although one of my daughters, her children – all three girls – have been in very elaborately beaded cradleboards that an uncle had made for them. … He [the uncle] said it was the man’s responsibility to make it. The beadwork and that, his wife made, like on the covers. But the basic structure of it, the wood and all this stuff, he made. It was sort of a cooperative effort, but whether that was tradition or not—as far as the uncle was concerned, this was his responsibility.
… Whenever my daughter wanted them to sleep, she’d put them in that and stand them up against the wall and they’d sleep for hours! They were really comfortable and have little moss bags and everything. She had her babies in there almost eight or nine months. They were in there for a long time because it was a big one and she’d stuff the bottom of it when they were really tiny and as they got bigger she’d pull out the bottom towels or whatever else she had stuffed down there for them. Not one of them has bow legs! Somebody said if you keep them in there too long they get bow-legged. Not one of them has bow legs.
project organizers, “Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections” project.