1080 Keewatin St,
Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 6T7

Dakobinaawaswaan (Baby in a Cradleboard) gathers more than 100 cradleboards representing Indigenous communities from across North America. In the language of Aninishaabeg peoples, dakobinaawaswaan describes a baby being wrapped and placed in a cradleboard, or tikinagaan. This exhibition showcases the strong legacy and beauty of traditional baby carriers — including miniatures, toy cradles and baskets — of the many Indigenous communities across Turtle Island. Through a wide range of imagery, beadwork, and specialized materials the cradleboard is honoured as a vessel of motherhood, cultural traditions, community, and resurgence.

Brought together by Shirley Stevens and the Cradle Keeper Co-operative of Northwestern Ontario, this exhibition is dedicated to the late Freda McDonald, the Elder for this initiative, who encouraged the project from the beginning.


curated by

Caitlyn Bird

Nowegijick family Tikinagaan, Paul Shonias Kiaashke Zaaging (Gull Bay First Nation)

Nowegijick family Tikinagaan, Paul Shonias, Kiaashke Zaaging (Gull Bay First Nation)

“Teach the children”

— Freda McDonald

Mary Louise Willier, Nehiyaw Cree, Sucker Creek First Nation, Northern Alberta, Canada, 1989


As part of Dakobinaawaswaan (Baby in a Cradleboard) we want to create new connections with Indigenous communities across Turtle Island.

We welcome you to share a photo of your tikinagaan or cradleboard along with your special story and family history. We will post the image and whatever information you feel comfortable sharing in an online gathering of cradleboards.

Please send your images and info to:

  Community Cradleboards  

We welcome cradleboards from all over North America. We’re excited to share the legacy and beauty of cradleboards in any condition, shape, and size, including toys and moss bags.

Our intention behind the Community Cradleboards online gathering is to honour and celebrate motherhood, cultural traditions, community, and resurgence.

The organizers of Dakobinaawaswaan look forward to hearing from you, Miigwetch





In the Great Lakes region, the environment is staggering. Many of the tribes such as the Anishnaabeg people were nomadic according to the seasons. Cradleboards were innovative for survival on the land and travelling long distances with babies. Natural materials such as hard wood and birch bark were essential to the design of the cradleboard.

Cradles of the Great Lakes communities such as Anishnaabeg, Cree, and Haudenosaunee and MĂ©tis share similar cradleboard features, for instance, the use of bows. Although similar, they are unique in their own style and imagery.

Two common types of tikinagaans of the Anishnaabeg use backboards of cedar or birch bark. An important part of the tikinagaan design is the moss bag, which is used to wrap a baby before putting them into a cradleboard. This is very beneficial for the baby as it also provides first lessons of life such as love, discipline, and protection. The design elements often include floral imagery representative of the land and family design.

Artist/Maker: Alice and Patrick Sabourin

First Nation: Anishinaabae

Location: Ojibway Netmizaaggamig, Pic River First Nation, Pic Mobert First Nation, Northwestern Ontario, Canada

Date: mid-20th century



Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Anishinaabae

Location: Great Lakes

Date: mid-20th century



The Northwest Coast communities such as Haida Gwaii and Tlingit are situated on the Pacific Coast, including islands and archipelagos.

Natural materials like cedar and roots are commonly used for the cradles. Through specialized weaving techniques, basket cradles are fashioned with imbricated (overlapping) cedar strips dyed using a natural root.

Renowned for their bentwood box techniques, artists have the Northwest Coast have applied these skills to cradles. The bentwood box cradle displayed here is an oval shaped box with seven sides and a defined top piece. This technique involves using a continuous piece of wood shaped with steam. Having only one seam helps to make the cradleboard waterproof.

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Se’lis

Location: Coast Salish, (Confederated Tribes) Northwest Coast

Date: late-20th/early-21st century

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Secwepemc/Salis

Location: Interior Salish/Shushwap Thompson River, Northwest Coast, Canada

Date: early/mid-20th century



The Plains tribes including the Lakho’ta (Lakota), Apsáalooke (Crow), Tsitsistas (Cheyenne), Numunuu (Comanche) and many more, are distinguished by their fully beaded cradles. Backboards, parfleche, and smoked, tanned hide are highly decorated with natural materials such dyed porcupine quills and traditionally traded goods such as beads and brass. Geometric designs, as well horses and buffalo are common motifs that depict cultural values and represent family histories.

Some of the cradles have stylized wooden bars or slats. It is believed this style of cradle originated from one tribe and spread naturally to others. This design was useful for hanging on a saddle or for leaning against trees.

There are several soft cradles that are fully beaded and beautifully embellished with ribbons, bells, and elk teeth. Many soft cradles are also detachable from their wooden backboard. Owning or making a fully beaded soft cradle was a great source of pride for mothers, families and communities; it was a way to honour the baby while demonstrating artistry and skill.

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Lakho’ta

Location: Plains, USA

Date: late-19th century


Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Lakho’ta

Location: Great Plains

Date: mid/late-20th century




The Plateau region represents communities including Yakima (Yakama), NimipuutĂ­mt (Nez Perce), Schitsu’umsh (Coeur D’alene) and SĂ©lis (Salish) coastal communities. The Plateau is located in-between two mountain ranges inland from the Pacific West Coast.

Cradleboards of Plateau are highly distinguished by the use of natural and trade materials such as beads and textiles. Generally, the backboard has an elongated, oval shape. There are two different designs for hoods. One features a woven hood made from twigs that usually incorporates the use of beads. Another design has a moveable bow for convenience. The board is often covered with hide decorated with beadwork across the top and embellished with strings of hide.

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Nimi (N. Shoshone) or Pohogue  (S. Shoshoni)

Location: Washington State, USA

Date: 1940s

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Shuyelepee (name of village) Colville (Spokane)

Location: Plateau Washington/Pacific Northwest

Date: mid/late-20th century



Tribes in California such as Nyyhmy (western Mono Lake Paiute) Pomo, Numa, and Nuwui are well-known for their intricate woven patterns made from natural materials such as willow, twigs, marsh grass, and reeds.

Weaving techniques for these cradles are brilliant and innovative. The decorative element of an intricate, tightly woven pattern speaks to cultural customs and relationship with the land. Prior to making the cradle, members of the community gathered and prepared materials. For instance, when gathering twigs, care and attention went into cutting, shaping and bending the materials before putting the cradle together.

Many of these cradles look delicate but they are extremely strong and durable. A design feature is a patterned, woven hood that protects a baby from the sun, wind, and heat. In this region, there are two types of cradles; one is a “receiving cradle” for newborns with a woven bow. A child grows quickly into another style of cradle which has an intricate designed woven hood.

Artist/Maker: Francys Sherman (Norma Sherman)

First Nation: Nyyhmy

Location: Western Mono Lake, Paiute, California, USA

Date: 1992

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Natinixwe Natinook-wa (people of place where trail ends)

Location: Hupa Klamath River, California, USA

Date: mid/late-20th century


Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Niheyaw

Location: Cree Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Canada

Date: early/mid-20th century

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Chumas

Location: Chumash, Cailfornia, USA

Date: mid 1980s

Artist/Maker: Unknown

First Nation: Apsa’alooke Apsaroke Crow

Location: Great Plains

Date:  late-19th/early-20th century


images by 

Willow Fiddler

funding provided by

Ontario Arts council logo