Prenatal class focuses on native traditions

Native traditions thousands of years old could be the key to promoting healthy childhood development—and a prenatal class intends on helping expectant mothers get in touch with these traditions.
“You have to be really careful when you are pregnant because it is a miracle,” elder Anne Wilson told the group of women gathered here last week to learn about native traditions during pregnancy.
“There is a purpose to everything when you raise children,” she said in a hushed tone.
A half-dozen women sat in a circle at the United Native Friendship Centre Youth Centre last Wednesday afternoon. They’re part of a three-part prenatal class being offered through the United Native Friendship Center and Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre.
“The class is for teens and teen moms, expectant mothers, and their families,” said Connie Calder of the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre.
The group meets each Wednesday but another set of classes is being planned for later this fall. To pre-register, call 274-2044.
Last week’s class focused around the tikinaagan—a traditional wooden and cloth baby carrier that swaddles the infant.
“One of the things we have come to realize is that this gift used by many indigenous peoples is very important in cognitive development,” noted Denise Bluebird, curriculum development co-ordinator for the Seven Generations Educational Institute here.
A baby is placed in the tikinaagan and then carefully wrapped so that their arms or legs aren’t touching each other. The cloth covering attached to a wooden base then is laced up over the infant, making them feel safe and secure in the carrier.
“If a child isn’t safe, warm, and feels secure, there is very little cognitive development,” Bluebird stressed.
This wrapping style is key to how the tikinaagan stimulates brain development.
“The brain isn’t sensing any physical contact, only the visual and audio senses are being stimulated,” Bluebird explained. “The whole time the child is watching and listening to everything.
“It doesn’t impact on physical development,” she added. “The best way to develop muscles is resistance and the child is always pushing against it.”
The traditional carrier also keeps the child’s spine straight during these months of early childhood development.
The tikinaagan base is made of cedar from a live tree, which Bluebird said retains the life energy this way.
The handle often is made of ash to protect the child, and the cloth covering is made for the child by a relative after they are born so it will be neither to big or to small for the infant.
“The child is wrapped in life, surrounded by energy of the tree, cloth, and the earth. She’s always surrounded by energy that comes from these parts,” Bluebird remarked.
It is Bluebird’s belief the tikinaagan helped many indigenous people develop the memory needed to retain thousands of years of oral history.
Wilson said she used the tikinaagan with her son and that it definitely made a difference.
“One day, my son was singing a song I didn’t know,” she told the group. “When I asked him where he got the song, he said, ‘It happened long ago when I was tied up or something.’”
Wilson later remembered the song was from a ceremony her son had attended when he was just three months old.
Both Wilson and Bluebird also discussed other native traditions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth during the afternoon session, including how much information even a fetus can learn before it is born.
Bluebird said the chief aim of the classes is to give mothers the tools they need to help their children grow and develop in a healthy way. She added many of those tools are found in native heritage.
“Science is coming up with its own theories that are the exact same thing that elders and our ancestors have been saying for thousands of years,” she said.