I grew up in a large family of two younger brothers, five older brothers and two older sisters. By the time I became a teenager, my older brothers and sisters had started their own families and for several years we were all surrounded by babies and young children. My younger brothers and I became prime candidates for babysitting jobs for our older siblings. I enjoyed spending time with my nieces and nephews and I received a great learning experience in how to care for very young children. I learned how to care for small babies from my mom, Susan, who is a very patient and caring mother. She knows how to care for children using traditional methods she learned from her own mother while they lived out on the land. Back then, child rearing out on the land in the wilderness was considered a normal part of life even in such hard circumstances. People knew how to care for their children in just about any kind of weather condition and were able to travel and continue moving about the land with their newborns.
One of the first gifts our sisters or brothers received for their newborn was a Tikinagan, as it is known in Cree or cradleboard for the new baby. The Tikinagan is a flat board set with a small trim and secured with a tough decorative cloth liner where the baby is strapped in. The board is designed with a hoop close to the top, so that if it ever falls over, the child will not be smothered in its blankets or be hurt. It is kind of like a roll bar. A shoulder strap is secured to the board. It attaches the board to a person’s back. In addition, the cradle-board comes with a Wasposeeyan, a wrap made of decorative cloth and lined with moose hide stringers. The baby is placed in this wrap with warm blankets and then tied together with the stringers to keep it secure and cozy. It is a convenient method of soothing the child while also allowing the parent to carry and easily move the baby around in a bundled protective package. When it is time to move outdoors the baby in its Wasposeeyan is again packaged inside additional cloth and blanket liners inside the Tikinagan and tied down again with moose hide stringers. In cold weather, an additional heavy cloth or canvas sheet is draped over the hoop to keep the elements at bay. This method of packaging the child allows the family to easily move the baby indoors and outdoors.
This traditional and convenient child carrier is also an instant way to keep the baby comfortable while visiting family or friends. The cradleboard can be propped up to stand on its end while the baby’s head is exposed for everyone to see while the child feels secure and warm. The need for the Tikinagan came out of my people’s nomadic lifestyle and constant moving about the land. Mom also taught my younger brothers and I how to care for, carry and sooth a young baby. She gained a vast amount of experience from other women in her family while growing up on the land. In addition, she had plenty of practice while caring for nine children of her own. As soon as the first grandchild was born, she taught every one of us how to change, feed and care for the newborn. The parents learned first but we brothers and sisters had to learn as well so that we could share the workload of caring for the new child.
By the time the fourth grandchild had come into our family, my younger brothers and I had learned all the main points on how to care for a small baby. Even though we were young teenage boys, mom and my sisters found that it was necessary that we learn how to change, feed and carry a small baby. One of the most important points that mom taught us was to walk a crying baby to sooth and calm its discomfort. This is a simple method of calming a child. It allows the babysitter a way to sooth the baby and wait for the parents or more experienced individuals to properly deal with any trouble the child might have. I remember walking my tiny nieces and nephews over many miles of floor space during several years of babysitting.
My brothers’ and sisters’ children have grown older now and my younger brothers and I don’t have to care for small babies anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love babies, but you know it is very nice to see them now all grown up. Babies are a lot of work.