The Tikinagan baby carrier returned to the family more than 50 years after its passage to the museum

An Anishinaabe elder feels closer to her late parents after a Winnipeg museum repatriated a tikinagan that was taken from her family in the 1960s.

“My mother said I was the last baby in this tikinagan. It makes me proud to have been in this tikinagan,” said Martina Fisher.

A tikinagan is a traditional tool used by First Nations mothers to carry babies on their backs. Fisher, who is Anishinaabe from Bloodvein First Nation, also describes it as a child’s first form of education, as they go wherever the mother goes in the community.

She recently took possession of the tikinagan made by her grandfather and sold to a curator at the Musée de Saint-Boniface around 1968.

She said a curator went to Bloodvein looking for coins for the province’s centennial, which was celebrated in 1970, and convinced her mother to sell the family heirloom for $30.

Over the years, his family knew about the piece on display at the museum, and Fisher said his late sister Mary Young wrote letters asking for the article’s return as early as the mid-1970s.

Fisher estimates that the tikanagan is about 85 years old and has been used by half of his mother’s 23 children.

She said her mother often talked about the tikinagan.

Martina’s family is pictured here, with her older sister Lillian holding her niece in the tikinagan in 1968. (Submitted by Martina Fisher)

“I knew it was there and people were telling me it was there…And I thought if I’m going to watch it I’m going to cry and then I want it back. So I stayed away from that .until it gets to us,” Fisher said.

Fisher shed many tears when she found out she was going to be in possession of an object that is sacred to her and says she is grateful to museum workers who helped with the repatriation.

“I feel a lot closer to my mom and dad because it’s part of us. It’s part of me…. It’s a puzzle that you put back together,” said Fisher, who plans to keep the tikinagan in the possession of the family.

Repatriation an act of reconciliation

Emilie Bordeleau-Laroche started working at the Saint-Boniface museum as a curator in September last year and was told that requests had already been made for the family’s tikinagan.

She said items that are repatriated usually have to go through a process that first begins with a community or family making formal requests for the items to be returned.

Bordeleau-Laroche, who is Métis from St. Boniface, said the tikinagan was likely purchased for $20 or $30 and was purchased using “questionable” business practices.

“We decided he shouldn’t be with us and he should be with them because they asked for him,” Bordeleau-Laroche said.

Bordeleau-Laroche said there is a bigger movement to have items repatriated and said returning items to Indigenous communities is a simple way to practice reconciliation.

“We admit our fault saying we shouldn’t have it and then we give it back to show we listened and want to partner up to make it a good relationship,” Bordeleau-Laroche said.

Fisher and his family have invited museum officials to participate in a traditional welcoming ceremony, which will take place in Winnipeg on April 16.