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Mary Annette Pember: Denise Lajimodiere revives birch bark biting

Denise Lajimodiere demonstrates the art of Mazinibaganjigan. Still image from Native Spotlight / YouTube

Independent journalist Mary Annette Pember visits with Denise Lajimodiere, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who has revived the art of Mazinibaganjigan, or birch bark biting:
“I keep my eyes closed when I work because I see the design in the darkness,” said Lajimodiere of her work in birch bark biting or mazinibakajige, which means “marks upon the bark.”

She carefully separated the layers of bark, almost holding her breath as she peeled the delicate onion-skin-like layers so they don’t tear. She folded a layer of bark into a triangle and began to bite a design with her eyeteeth. Biting quickly, sounding a chipmunk chewing through wood, she creates elaborate flowers, dragonflies and turtles.

She held the finished work up to a lamp so the design could shine through. Lajimodiere, an assistant professor at North Dakota State University School of Education as well as a poet, sells her designs as earrings, wall hangings and other forms.

Birch bark biting was a pre-contact method of creating designs for beading or quillwork according to Lajimodiere. “Mazinibakajige died out in my tribe until I began doing it about eight years ago,” she said.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Healing Through the Art of Birch Bark Biting (Indian Country Todya 3/4)

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