“I see the design through my eye teeth… I keep my eyes closed when I work because I see the design in the darkness said Denise Lajimodiere, (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) of her work in birch bark biting or ‘mazinibakajige’ which means marks upon the bark.” M. A. Pember, ICTMN
Excerpt: Healing Through the Art of Birch Bark Biting, by Mary A. Pember, ICTMN
“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.
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 [like] 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.
You tube: Dale Kakkak talks with Denise Lajimodiere who was teaching Birch Bark Biting at the 3rd Nagaajiwanaang (Fond du Lac) Language Camp. Denise demonstrates how to prepare the bark and how create the design you want.
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.
Lajimodiere was recently selected for a six-month Minnesota Historical Society Native Artist-in-Residence. With the award funds she plans on visiting the National Museum of the American Indian NMAI’s Archive Center in Suitland, Maryland to see the ancient mazinibakajige held there.
She hopes to travel to Maine to meet other “biters” and hopefully inspire a conference or symposium that will begin a resurgence of the art.”
“It’s very healing and requires a great deal of patience. The bark is harvested in the spring and does no harm to the tree. The tree heals itself right back up.”~ Denise Lajimodiere~