Raising a Tipi: An invitation to community

I got up early on Friday, June 11th, to bike up to the Environment Centre. It was a very special day for me. I had been invited to participate in raising a Tipi at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre with TRACKS (TRent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and Science). This was a joint venture with Camp Kawartha to strengthen community ties, share knowledge and support Indigenous knowledge keeping.

When I rolled into the Environment Centre, it was already a hub of activity. David Lundberg had driven down from his home and workshop in Timmins (Sewn Home) with everything we needed to raise the tipi. People had begun to move the long spruce poles from the circular drive of the Environment Centre to the place where the tipi would be raised. I parked my bike and joined in. The poles were not heavy but at about 30 feet long, you needed to be watchful and plan your route. I bumped into a few bushes going ‘round the birdfeeders the first time! What a wonderful feeling, though, to be out in the world, building a community space. I loved the weight of the spruce beam on my shoulder and, when it bounced, I could feel the strength and flexibility of this tree that would lend these important qualities to the tipi.

David told us about how the spruce were harvested. He spoke about creating relationships with the loggers in the Timmins region and how he was able to go into the long corridors and clear cuts to harvest this spruce. He spoke about how spruce likes to grow together, in communal groves, so that the tall slender trees can support one another against the wind. He told us that he was able to go in and sustainably harvest those trees damaged by the logging process. I think about the seedlings my WILD group planted out front and wonder about how best to care for them. Should we plant more? How should we best support our tree friends? This is a question I have been asking increasingly as I become more aware of how integrated our planet is.

Community is everything and I look around at the people gathered to learn from David and Billy, an elder who will lead a fire ceremony in the tipi later this day. There are our Environment Centre people, the TRACKS folks in their fabulous T-shirts, and Rodney, a local film-maker who will document this day. It is good to be here, with old friends and new, learning and creating this place together. I hope that we will all be like the spruce trees that will make this tipi, finding strength through standing next to one another, so that when the winds blow, our inter-connectedness will strengthen us and let us reach toward the sun. This is especially important right now, with light being shed on the horrors of residential schools, something very much in my heart throughout this day.

Measuring the three main poles.

David directs us to find the four strongest poles, three of which will become the main supports for the tipi and the fourth which will raise the canvas. It is like an elegant dance: the three poles are laid out, two together and one angled off to the side. They are measured and cut. Precision matters here and David emphasizes the importance of this to the strength of the tipi. The angled pole is cut slightly shorter than the other two to ensure that everything lines up when the other poles are added.

Tying a clove hitch. Isn’t that a beautiful sight!

The poles are tied together with a series of clove hitches. Clove hitches are one of my favourite pieces of knotwork. I was taught them by my Dad who used to work on the docks at Goderich when he was boy. Here, they are used to both secure the rope initially and at the close, but also to tighten the ropes to hold the three poles together. Modern technology makes an appearance as David secures the ropes with some screws, additional security at a key structural point.

The finished knotwork!

Then the magic happens. The rope is pulled, and the tallest members of our crew begin to walk the poles upright. Feet are used to brace the spruce poles and soon there is a triangle towering overhead: still two poles on one side and the rope pole on the other. Careful now and steady. David takes one of the two poles and walks it calmly out to where it can form a tripod. The crew can let go. With its three legs securely on the ground, the tipi will not tip over.

Raising the tiipii!

David makes more measurements to ensure that the triangle base between the poles forms an equilateral triangle. Precision now will ensure safety and the longevity of the tipi. These poles will support the entire structure, grounded in their support of each other.

The three main poles.

Then the additional poles are added, one by one, feet bracing them until they are in position. Then they are roped together, using the original rope. David walks around the tipi, snapping the rope into place and tightening it to hold the poles together. He then winds it down its original pole (used to raise the tipi) and secures it in place with another clove hitch.

A community of timbers.

Break time and crew shift time. These are Covid times and we’re careful of distance and the numbers of people able to be together today. I munch on some food graciously provided by TRACKS and the Environment Centre. I get to chat with a few people I don’t often see in these times. What a wonderful treat! Then I help do a bit of cleaning and water our trees out front while the canvas is raised and secured around the tipi. I missed this part but I did get to see it going up through the Environment Centre window!

Unwrapping the canvas.

I was again able to join in to help secure the canvas, again with ropes as well as pegs to hold it to the ground. I am always in awe of the strength of knots. We don’t teach much knotwork and, yet, for me, it’s been an essential part of my life, holding canoes on cars and even a muffler (tied with ethernet cable of all things). It doesn’t take much technology to make things secure. Ropes can often be a better choice than screws or nails.

The final clove hitch.

The tipi is up, beautiful and white against the green of the trees and the changing blues and greys of the sky. Rodney gets his drone going and takes some shots of us waving. We wave and wave and wave. Then he says: “OK. I’m ready! Wave!” We laugh a wave some more.

The last two poles will be inserted to adjust for wind movement at the smoke hole.

It is time now for the fire ceremony, for this tipi to begin it’s journey in connecting and centering communities. This will be a day I will remember always, for it’s beauty and synergy and connection with the land and people that live in Nogojiwanong. Chi miigwech to all those at TRACKS for the invitation, to Craig for holding this space, to David and Billy for sharing their knowledge and all those who shared their time and energies to build this beautiful place.

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