Thunder Bay

Surprise return of 55-year-old tikinagan sign of hope, renewal for Cree man

After a fateful connection on social media earlier this month, a 51-year-old man from Constance Lake First Nation in northern Ontario is being reunited with the tikinagan that cradled him as an infant.

American man tracks down owner of First Nation-style cradle on Facebook, offers to return it

Darius Ferris says he hopes the return of the tikinagan made by his grandmother sparks a revival of the use of the First Nations technology in his community and beyond. (Darius Ferris/Facebook)

Darius Ferris almost ignored the private message on Facebook earlier this month, but that post is now bringing hope and healing to the 51-year-old from Constance Lake First Nation in northern Ontario.

"Usually I don't bother with those kinds of in-boxes, but I checked it out," Ferris told CBC News. "It was a gentleman from Illinois, asking me if I was Darius Robert Ferris and if there was a lady by the name of Rachel Suzy Ferris."

The man had Ferris's date of birth and that of his sister, Rachel. The information was written inside a tikinagan, or cradleboard, which the man had found among a collection of items belonging to a friend of his sister.  Both women are dead, he told Ferris.

"I was in disbelief," Ferris said, but the man shared photos of the tikinagan, which Ferris then sent to his 74-year-old mother, Beatrice Ferris.

"She said yes it belonged to us," Ferris said. "I asked her who made it and she said my late grandmother made it about 54, 55 years ago.

A man from Illinois discovered this tikinagan among the possessions of his late sister's friend and tracked down its owner in Constance Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. (Darius Fiddler/Facebook)

"She was also in disbelief and we were just excited," he said. "My mom never thought she would see this tikanagan again. She was kind of emotional."

A tikinagan is a piece of Indigenous technology.  It is a board with a laced bag attached and a handle that allows babies to be snuggled safely into a bundle and carried by their parents, or gently rocked to sleep. 

"We used to call my grandmother, 'mamma', so I asked [my mother] how did mamma make this?" Ferris said. "She told me about all the effort they put behind it to comfort their children, their grandchildren. She made it all by hand."

It's not clear how Ferris's tikinagan ended up in the United States. The man from Illinois has promised to send it back and Ferris hopes once he and his mother are able to hold it in their hands, many memories will come out.

One of the photos sent to Darius Ferris from a man in Illinois of the tikinagan built by Ferris's grandmother, with the date of birth for Darius and his sister are written inside. (Darius Ferris/Facebook)

"When I get it, I'd like to sit back and hold it," Ferris said. "I'm just going to reminisce and go back to the time with my mother and my sister and my family.

"I'm sure my mother will have a lot to say when she sees it and the memories she's going to share."

Tikinagans aren't seen very often these days in Constance Lake as most parents use strollers now for their babies, Ferris said.

"I believe having this tikinagan come back to us, there's a reason for everything and just maybe this will revive the use of tikinagans back to our communities, not only for us, but for non-Indigenous people too."

In this fateful connection to the comforts of his childhood, Ferris sees both a literal,  and symbolic, return of what was lost.

'Sign of hope'

His tikinagan was built in the 1960s, in the time of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

"It's a sign of hope that will bring us back to that day when many of our children were scooped from their parents, from their arms, from their homes, from their communities, and many of them didn't come back," he said. 

"And now, just to know that whatever has been taken from you in the past will be given back to you in some way, some form and that goes for something you love and something you cherished over the years," he added. "You may think it's just a memory, but to have that possession back in your life will bring healing."

Ferris said he is grateful to the American woman who came to "cherish" his tikinagan for so many years and for the man who found him on Facebook and is shipping it back to Constance Lake, free of charge.

Its return will be celebrated by his family and his entire community, he said, and perhaps it's message of hope will spread well beyond that.

"I'm sure this is just the beginning," he said. "I look forward to sharing this information with other people and to know that there is hope."