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Dikinaugan project focuses on family and prepares new parents

Observer Staff

10/3/2005 12:00:00 AM

By Judy D. Pamp

Ziibiwing Assistant Director

Native Americans have used dikinaaganan, cradleboards for hundreds of years.

While individual Tribes may use different materials, designs, and shapes, the cradleboard's function was to protect, transport, and help with the bonding process between the mother and child.

In the Anishinabek belief, children are gifts from the creator. We take great care to protect and guide our children (little spirit beings).

The Anishinabek used a wooden backboard with a soft covering to wrap the infant. The backboard had an agwingweon or headbow to provide protection for the child's face and head.

The apizideyaakwa'igan or footboard was shaped like the letter "U." It wrapped around the base of the backboard and protected the child's body. The backboard also helped the infant develop good posture.

Anishinabek parents always construct an asubakasin or dream catcher to hang from the headbow to protect the young spirit from harmful spirits or bad dreams. Many parents also tie medicine bundles to the cradleboard to provide protection to the infant.

The family takes great pride into making the dikinaagan. The men design, carve, and make the backboard. The grandfathers and uncles share stories with the father-to-be. They instruct him on parenting, family history, and what he should teach his child when it is born.

The grandmothers, aunts, and sisters gather to design the covering. They too instruct the mother-to-be on parenting, traditions, and family history while beading the beautiful floral work you see on our cradleboard covers. The process of making the cradleboard is really about creating the time to instruct the expecting parents.

The blanket wrapped infant is bound into the dikinaagan or cradleboard. The binding of our infants provides comfort to the child. It develops the infant's muscles when they struggle against the binding also helps to reduce the chance of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Infants sleep on their back, the infant is always close to a caregiver, and the parents take care to never over bundle the child to help keep the child's body temperature at room level.

Using a cradleboard also helps the child develop its sight, hearing, taste, and smell senses. The child learns to observe, before it learns to interact. The infant learns patience and respect through observation.

I remember elders telling me to remain calm during my pregnancy. "If you become fearful or excited, your child will be fearful and easily excited too," instructed one elder. Another told me why we carry our children on our back.

She said, "The young spirit is new to the physical world and always looking back to our ancestors in the spirit world. The infant looks to where we come from and stores this into his/her memory. Some call this blood memory. The mother is always looking forward, into the future. She is to guide the little spirit into the future.

"The family is to instruct and teach the little spirit what it needs to know for the future; make sure he/she knows the stories, our traditions, our language, and the strengths he/she brings to our people."

This is what was instructed to me by elders and family members. I have always tried to live my life this way-the Anishinabe way.

My family continues to use cradleboards for our shki-binooji or newborns. I was blessed with my first grand child in December of 2004.

Immediately my daughter, Dayna Lada and I started to plan for her dikinaagan. Who should we ask to design the board? What wood should be used? How long should it be? We offered tobacco to her cousin, Chad Avery and asked him to help with the back board. He accepted our tobacco and said he was honored.

The next question that arose was what should we bead on the dikineyaab or covering? This opened an opportunity for us to sit and talk about our floral designs. I showed her our families' traditional flowers. I shared with her the floral patterns I designed and added to our families' collection. We discussed where each flower pattern was used on different family members' regalia and cradleboards.

Together we designed floral patterns to add to our families' collection. I was rather surprised when she asked me if she could put a Gaag or porcupine on her baby's cradleboard cover. Curious, I asked, "Why?"

Dayna explained that porcupines were a large part of her childhood memories. She can remember clunking porcupines which means hunting them. She stated we were always plucking quills, cleaning porcupines, and she never did know if the barbecue beef in the house was beef or porcupine. "It was porcupine most of the time," I said with a chuckle.

Unsure of the appropriation of her request, she immediately asked if animals were allowed on the dikineyaab. I assured her that something that strong of a childhood memory should most definitely be included as part of our design. My mind was whirling with thoughts of the finish look.

The next six months were spent talking about the changes my daughter was going through, and the changes she would go through as a mother. We discussed parenting, values, traditions, hopes and fears. We laughed, cried, and worked diligently for months on the dikineyaab.

Every bead was sewed with love; every flower was a learning experience for both mother and child. As the little spirit grew inside my daughter, everyone celebrated and showered Dayna with love.

Every family event and community event we participated in over the months; out came our beads, needles, and the dikineyaab. Numerous people would inquire to the nature of our toil. Some would sit and learn to tack down the beads. Many loving hands went into completing my grandchild's dikineyaab.

Anastasia Ida Mae Lada blessed this world on December 16, 2004. I achieved the honor of being nokomi or grandmother. Dayna became the guiding mother to her own precious daughter.

Look around our community, you will see a young mother who is balancing work at the Tribal court, learning at MSU, and family.

Dayna and Anastasia entered the dance circle together at our August Powwow. Mother and child connected together by traditions and love. Anastasia looking towards our ancestors in her dikinaagin, while Dayna danced forward representing our nation's future. Nokomis proudly took pictures.