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Mazinibaganjigan (plural: mazinibaganjiganan) or birch bark biting is an ancient folk art made by the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe),[1] Odawa, Cree,[2] and other Algonquian peoples who use birch bark, by biting down on small pieces of folded birch bark to form intricate designs.[3]

Samples of artwork made in this fashion were sent in the 1600s to Europe by Jesuits, where it had been previously unknown.[4] The practice remained common in Saskatchewan as late as the 1950s.[5]


It is also known as mazinashkwemaganjigan(-an) (by Northwestern Ontario Ojibwe) and 'njigan(-an) (by Wisconsin Ojibwe). In English, this has been described either as "birch bark bitings" or "birch bark transparencies."


Thin and flexible pieces of birch bark are chosen.[6] This kind of bark is easiest to find in the early spring.[7] Using the eyeteeth to bite, the bite pressures can either pierce the bark pieces into a lace or just make certain areas thinner to allow for light to pass through.[8] If the bark piece is carefully folded, symmetrical designs can also be made onto it.[8]


Many of the designs that are used contain symbological and religious significance to the Ojibwa. Though the practice almost died out, there are an estimated dozen practitioners left in Canada and the United States, some of whom display the craft in contexts outside of their original intentions to show evidence of this ancient practice. Birch bark bitings can be used in storytelling, as patterns for quillwork and beadwork, as well as finished pieces of art.[9] The holes created by biting are sometimes filled with coloured threads to create woven designs.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Indigenous Perspectives of North America: A Collection of Studies. Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 20 August 2014. ISBN 978-1-4438-6613-2. p. 210–.
  2. ^ Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples. Visible Ink Press; 18 April 2016. ISBN 978-1-57859-608-9. p. 1273–.
  3. ^ "Birch Bark Biting". The Canadian Encyclopedia
  4. ^ Papers of the ... Algonquian Conference. Carleton University; 1995. p. 307–308.
  5. ^ Northwest dentistry. Vol. 38-39. 1959. p. 206.
  6. ^ Robert Rogers. Herbal Allies: My Journey with Plant Medicine. North Atlantic Books; 27 June 2017. ISBN 978-1-62317-140-7. p. 54–.
  7. ^ Erik M. Redix. The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin. MSU Press; 1 September 2014. ISBN 978-1-62895-032-8. p. 150–.
  8. ^ a b Frances Densmore, Chippewa Customs (1929, repr. 1979) ISBN 0-87351-142-5
  9. ^ Inspiring Women: A Celebration of Herstory. Coteau Books; 2003. ISBN 978-1-55050-204-6. p. 250–.
  10. ^ Minnesota History News. Vol. 1-10. Minnesota Historical Society.; 1959.

External links

  • National Anthropological Archives: Birch bark transparency
  • Birch Bark Biting
  • The First Nations art of birch bark biting
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