A couple of weeks ago, I accepted an offer to help put up a tipi on the Algonquin College campus. I accepted because I had helped put up tipis before and thought it would be a great way to learn about true meaning of the poles. The Mi’kmaq never used tipis, they used wigwams, tipis that are put up are just decoration. The only knowledge I have is that the poles go up in a tripod, then the other poles follow and then it’s time to dress that bad boy up with the canvas.
When I arrived, I was running on “Indian time,” which means I was about 20 minutes late. I got there and everybody was sitting around and nothing was accomplished. I thought it was strange, but they must have been on Indian time too. Little did I know that they didn't start because they were waiting for me.
We get outside and start to smudge. I think this is nice, but then someone walks up to me and asks, “You the tipi expert?” This is where I know I’m in trouble. What should I do? Let them think we’re all clueless and don't have the faintest idea how to put up a tipi? No, I did what anyone in that situation would do—I winged it.
I took control, we got the tripod up, tied ropes, placed the poles and after a hiccup with the canvas, eventually got it up. I've never been prouder. I did it. I winged it and succeeded, or so I thought. The canvas was loose and once of the key poles didn't touch the ground.
What were we going to do? What was I going to do? Admit that I’m not a tipi expert, that it was the blind leading the blind? Nope, I talked to Thomas, the elder from Moose Factory and we offered tobacco and thought of something quick. The pole that didn't touch, I simply tied to another pole with the excess rope. I then led them to try and fix the canvas. After an hour of this we met as a team and decided that it would be easier to just call the tipi company and get them to come in and do it.
Overall, what I learned was that taking down a tipi is a lot easier than putting one up.
Madison Joe is currently a student in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. Madison Joe hails from Membertou, a Mi'kmaq First Nation in Nova Scotia. He can be found playing his Playstation or roaming the streets of Ottawa completely lost.
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