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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Reflections on Cradleboard Tradition

November is Native American Heritage Month. At AKA we are celebrating our work in tribal communities and our AKA team members. Tribes, communities, and people teach us about their culture, traditions, and ceremonies. AKA associate, Carrie Manning shares memories of her family history and cradleboards in this blog. She reflects on continuing the cradleboard tradition with her children and grandchildren.

Baby in a traditional Native American cradleboard
Photo credit: Carrie Manning


I am sharing from the heart, my loving memories of swaddling my babies and grandbabies.

Some tribes across North America carried their babies in a cradleboard, baby basket or sometimes called a baby board. The cradleboard looks different from tribe to tribe but was used for the same purpose. It carried the baby more easily whether it be on the back or propped up against a tree or rock while allowing the mothers to move around more freely to do her chores. The cradleboard of the Washoe/Paiute People was made with red willow and padded with rabbit furs and covered with deer hide for the winter month babies. The “shade”, “hood” also named “the cover” was made of willow which protected the baby from the winter months and protection in case the baby fell. The shade protected the babies face. Later in the mid-1900’s the modern way to cover the willow was to use canvas or Pendleton blankets. My paternal grandmother was full blooded Washoe and married a Paiute man. She lived and raised her children amongst the Paiute people. These two tribes are both in the Great Basin area near Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake Nevada. She lived with us when I was a little girl and I have fond memories of being “grandma’s girl”. I remember helping her pick the willows down by the river, she would put a willow basket on her back. Once she filled her basket up, we would walk back to the house where we would sort the willows by size and soak them in water. She taught me how to peel the bark off the willow to make thread so she could sow the willow pieces together. She would make pine nut baskets, bowl baskets, and of course cradleboard baskets. She was well known in the Great Basin for making baskets. When I was 7 years old, I remember she made me and my little sister baby doll cradleboards. We would wrap our baby dolls and playhouse for hours. My grandma swaddled my dad in a cradleboard as an infant and she taught my Sioux mother to swaddle me in a cradleboard. Once I started having children of my own, I swaddled my children in a cradleboard and now my children are swaddling their babies in a cradleboard.

I am thankful that I have been able to carry on the tradition for my grandbabies.

I was taught that babies love to be swaddled because it resembles the womb. The babies are less fussy and become good sleepers. By the time they were three months old my babies all slept throughout the night and were on a regular schedule. Cradleboards are usually only used for babies up to the age of 1 or 2 however, our son loved being swaddled tight well until he was close to 4 years old. He out grew his cradleboard so my husband created a shelf board that I padded and swaddled him tight and secured him with belts onto the shelf board. I cherish those memories of swaddling my children and now I cherish the memories of my grandchildren.


1 Comment

Kelley Milligan
Kelley Milligan
Nov 16, 2022

I love this blog Carrie! What a beautiful tradition. Thank you for sharing this. 💛

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