Tikinagan: An Indigenous Parenting Practice Being Reclaimed

 ANDREA WITH HER DAUGHTER RJ. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDREA LANDRY

ANDREA WITH HER DAUGHTER RJ. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDREA LANDRY

 MARGARET WALLACE AND VINCENT WALLACE. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDREA LANDRY

MARGARET WALLACE AND VINCENT WALLACE. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDREA LANDRY

The following is an excerpt from Today’s Parent (@TodaysParent):

“There are times during motherhood, Indigenous and otherwise, when our infants decide they do not want to sleep, or they are simply uncomfortable and the only way they can sleep is when they are on our chests. Which of course, keeps us awake. But this was where the mossbag and tikinagan came into play. As soon as she was wrapped, RJ would sleep for longer stretches. I would lay her down safely, refuelled by my prayers, and finally get some rest.

Members of a community and families each play a vital role in preparing the different pieces necessary to complete a tikinagan for a mother and her newborn.

The board and bow is to be made by the nohtawi (father) or the moshum (grandfather). The nihkawi (mother) is to make the covering. This provides a balance of kinship—everyone plays a part in ultimately providing security and comfort, and a space for observance and learning for the baby. This process alone shows the significant role that kinship plays within the lives of Indigenous peoples, because prior to the child coming physically into the world, teachings of kinship are being woven into the first place they will sleep.

Today, many tikinagans and mossbags are passed down between generations. Our daughter was carried in a tikinagan that was given to us by one of my uncles. He was wrapped in it when he first came into the world—created by and prayed upon by his uncle and aunty some 50 years ago. I took comfort in the fact that when RJ was uncomfortable and frustrated from living outside of the womb, we would wrap her tight, put her in her mossbag and fasten her inside her tikinagan, like she was still in my womb. Her crying would instantly stop. I wasn’t surprised at the tikinagan’s ability to comfort RJ, as I knew that mothers before me wouldn’t have used it if it didn’t provide comfort.

Despite decades of wear and tear on RJ’s tikinagan, the resilient beadwork is still intact. It is similar to the experiences enmeshed within Indigenous motherhood, and motherhood itself. Although colonialism has attempted to wear us down as Indigenous mothers, and as mothers in general, we remain resilient and strong. And through the sleepless nights, the isolating and lonely days, the teething, fevers and sicknesses, we as mothers, along with our babies, remain connected in a space of deep love.”