Michelle Kakegamic, 34, is an Ojibwe and Cree mother of three who has been the recipient of international attention over a family photo.
The registered nurse from Muskrat Dam First Nation, Ont., a small reserve where less than 300 people live, received dozens of messages and thousands of comments over the image showing her triplets swaddled in cradleboards.
Kakegamic shared a photo of her triplets with the Facebook page Native Breastfeeding Week, to mark the milestone of breastfeeding them for six months. Many congratulated the mother on her milestone, along with another detail: the handcrafted baby carriers cradling her three daughters.
A tikinagan, also called a dikinaagan in Anishanaabe, is a facet of the cradleboard that many Indigenous peoples have used to carry their babies. Traditionally, children are swaddled and laced up in a moss bag (the moss’ disinfectant properties served as a diaper).
But cradleboards are a widespread traditional indigenous method used to carry infants in a way that allowed the mothers to freely use their hands.
A variety of Southwestern, Eastern Woodlands, and Northern Plains Tribes have traditionally used cradleboards such as the Apache, Hopi, Lakota, Crow, Iroquois, and Penobscot among many others.
Each nation has its own unique version. For instance, the Navajo constructed cradleboards from lashed wooden rods while Oneida cradleboards were constructed using wood boards and leather strips. Other types were woven moss bags attached to wooden frames or baskets.
Within any one nation, the cradleboards were unique. The family would make the cradleboard around the time of the new infant’s birth. They were made with the care of the infant in mind, often with protective measures to ensure that the infant would remain safe if the board were to fall, but also with attached designs and toys. The end result was a unique product that brought the whole family together, both old and new, in its construction.
Forced assimilation policies enforced by colonial government rule tore apart Indigenous family structures and undermined child-rearing practices like the tikinagan. So, Indigenous mothers have taken it upon themselves to use the cradle board as a form of connecting to culture and passing it on to their little ones.
When it comes to the online response, Kakegamic is happy that others are curious about a child-rearing item that’s part of everyday life in her community. Support from those around the mother has been essential to raising her family.