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Native American roots alive and well in South County Hospital

Published 01/16/2017

For local Washington County residents, Cassius and Endawnis Spears, keeping their Native American cultural traditions alive and well is a high priority and important to their family. When it comes to birth and new family members, tradition continues with the use of a Native American cradle board. 

“It’s important that we continue this tradition and pass it down to our children because these pieces of heritage can so easily fade away,” said Cassius. This specific cradle board differs greatly from the modern baby carrier you may see in your local department store. While designs vary between tribes, all Native American cradle boards are built with the same components of a bow, back board, foot board, nature inspired pieces strapped to either side of the bow to indicate gender, and cloth strapping to secure the child in place in the carrier. 

The cradle board used with all three of their children, Nizhoni, 4; Sowaniu 2; and most recently Giizhik, (born on January 12th) comes from Endawnis’ Arizona Navahoe decent. A Navahoe cradle board features a curved wooden bow with two separate pieces of wood making up the back board and coming to two separate points above the head, while a cradle board from Cassius’ Narragansett decent would have a pointed bow and a single piece of wood for the back board. Girls typically feature a small piece of white shell on the right side of the cradle board to denote gender, but because Giizhik is a boy, has tiny pieces of turquoise tied to the left of his head on the board. 

“The bow is meant to physically protect the baby’s head, but also represents the rainbow,” said Endawnis. “This is where the person carrying the baby would weave their arm through to carry the child while strapped into the board.” 

This cradle board will be passed onto their oldest child, Nizhoni, while Cassius will work with his family to hand make the two cradle boards that will be passed down to his two sons, Sowaniu and Giizhik, for when they start their families.

“This is their third delivery with us and we never tire of this family’s dedication to cultural tradition,” said Maureen Pearlman, RN, Women and Newborn Care Unit Nurse Manager. View more information on delivering at South County Hospital, or call 401 789-0661.