Tipis (also known as teepees and tepees) are dwellings used by First Nations groups primarily on the plains of North America. They were portable shelter during times when mobility was important. Tipis were also used for important ceremonies and gatherings.
On Wednesday, September 9, thanks to generous support from anonymous donors, a tipi was raised outside the Faith & Life Centre on the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus.
“We were inspired in doing so by the Faculty of Native Studies on the North Campus, who also have a permanent tipi in front of their main building,” says Chair of Augustana’s Aboriginal Engagement Committee Jérôme Melançon, lecturer in political studies and philosophy. “The organizers of the Spirit of the Land conferences have brought a tipi to the campus for the duration of their events in the past.”
The tipi will serve many uses on campus. Not only will it add a venue for courses and events, but it will also serve as a facility for ceremonies that can’t take place indoors. It can serve also as the starting point for cultural awareness on campus, act as a teaching tool, and can be a meeting place for Aboriginal students and Elders. “It offers Aboriginal students a sense that this is also their campus, and that this campus is open to them,” explains Melançon.
The tipi was purchased from the Pê Sâkâstêw Centre in Maskwacis, Alberta. It was raised by Elder Gary Waskahat and Leanne Louis, Aboriginal Liaison Officer from Pê Sâkâstêw Centre, with assistance from Elder Roy Louis and four men from the Centre. Students, staff and community members gathered to celebrate and joined in, assisting with the raising, while the Augustana Students’ Association offered tea and bannock.
The location at the top of the ravine was chosen for its visibility both on campus and beyond. It will be one of the first sights to greet visitors to campus.
“Personally, I find that it is an important way to acknowledge that tipis stood on this land long before our campus existed,” concludes Melançon. “They stood here before our students started to come from all over the world, long before Old Main was built, long before Europeans settled here. I think it’s also aesthetically pleasing and contrasts well with the brick, steel, and glass of our other buildings. It will act, I hope, as a reminder that we live on the traditional territory of the Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, and other First Nations and that we are part of Treaty 6.”