Inside the Tipi: A blog post by Steven Showalter

Steven Showalter is the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Partnership summer student at St. Mary’s, a 2nd year Bachelor of Education student and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

On Tuesday, August 16th, St. Mary’s University hosted a special event with Vibrant Communities Calgary called “Elders Teachings”. Elders Reg and Rose Crowshoe honoured us with their presence and told stories that taught about the life of Indigenous people around the tipi. The event was open to the public from 10:00am – 12:00pm with approximately 50 attendees who enjoyed a catered lunch afterwards.

Stories about the tipi were very interesting, allowing for a more holistic picture that brought together different elements of Indigenous culture. Reg and Rose discussed the process of building a tipi, as well as the story behind the paintings on the tipi, and its significance to the people. Through the entirety of the event all attendees were seated in chairs or on the grass inside the tipis. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from Elders Reg and Rose in a manner that aligned with Indigenous traditions of oral literacy and smudging while in circle. The entire event was conducted with as much Indigenous tradition as possible, and the presence of the Crowshoe’s tipis assisted in this.

My experience was a little bit different than that of the attendees. When I arrived on campus, I was invited to help put up the tipis. The opportunity to build the tipis was something I had never had experience with that left me feeling both excited and nervous to help. I did not want to make any mistakes with the jobs I was assigned, or get in the way of the Crowshoe family, who knew exactly what they were doing. The process of building the tipis was fast-paced and tiresome. The wooden poles used to build the tipi up were around 25 feet long and needed to be moved carefully and put up properly. I learned the importance of teamwork in this process as one person pins the pole with their foot to keep it from moving while at the same time, the other man would walk the wooden poles up or down to get the pole in the right spot. Each wooden pole needs to be put up in a specific order so that the strength of the tipi is not compromised. Communication was an important part of the process as each person needed to ensure they were moving at the same pace and working together. Throughout this process, I realized that four people could put up a tipi in roughly forty minutes. This is twice the time it took to take the tipi down as more time needs to be taken in making sure the tipi was properly secure. Overall the process of building and taking down tipis is quick and efficient. Everyone has a job to do that needs to be done properly if the tipi is to withstand the environment.

The Crowshoe’s were very friendly and positive in teaching me what to do and explaining the purpose behind each step in the process. I feel very fortunate to have had their guidance and teachings throughout this amazing opportunity and would also like to thank Vibrant Communities and St. Mary’s University for creating and hosting this “Elders Teaching”.

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