I am from the prairies. My people have lived here for as long as we can remember. We are wanderers like the buffalo, moving from place to place to place in a never ending cycle. My home is my tipi, wherever it may be.
My tipi was made with my own two hands. I journeyed to the foothills in the springtime to search for the perfect trees to hold it upright: straight, slender and tall. I cut off the branches and peeled off the bark to make them smooth, and carved the ends into a point where they would touch the ground.
It was fun to set the poles up for the first time, and imagine the home I would create. They would stay up for three weeks to let the wood season into a strong frame.
The cover for my tipi has been ready for awhile. It is made out of twelve buffalo hides. The meat of the buffalo feeds us, and the rest of his body provides us with tools, utensils, thread, and clothing. The skin of the buffalo takes time and effort to prepare. It must be scraped of any remaining hair, flesh, and fat, and bleached in the sun. Then it must be rubbed with a mixture including the brains of the buffalo, and left to dry. Finally it must be rubbed and stretched until it is soft and pliable.
I invited all my women friends to come and help me prepare my cover. My aunt is an expert at designing tipi covers, so she took charge. The buffalo hides were cut and sewn together with fibres of buffalo tendon and bone needles while we ate buffalo stew and laughed and chatted. Finally it was complete, and I was so proud.
My sister helped me to set it up for the first time. First I chose a flat and level spot. We spread my cover out on the ground with the wrong side up and I placed two of my poles on top of the cover so I could see where to tie them and then crossed a third pole at the tying point. I used a long piece of rope and tied one end around the top of the three poles where they crossed. Then we lifted them together into position.
Another eleven poles were placed around and between until there was a circle of poles with their tops all resting in the crotches formed between the first three. I took the long piece of rope that was hanging down from where it was tied, and wrapped it four times around the rest of the poles and then anchored it with a peg on the ground inside the circle. Now it was ready for the cover. There were three poles left: two were for the smoke flaps and the final one was to help put the cover in place. It is called the lifting pole.
The cover had to first be tied to this pole, and then with the cover all folded up we pushed the final pole up into place. The cover unfolded and we pulled it around to the front on each side. It was starting to take shape! My bag of lacing pins was nearby. I had made them out of sticks from an ash tree over the past few weeks. I climbed up on my sister’s shoulders to put the first lacing pin in. When all eleven were finally in, nice and neatly down the front to the door, I went inside and admired how nice and cozy and big it was. Then I pushed all the poles out as far as I could until everything was nice and tight.
The last two poles were for the smoke flaps. My tipi is tilted slightly towards the front. This makes the smoke hole closer to the front than straight up the top. The poles are attached to the smoke flaps on each side and can be moved keep out wind and rain, or even closed up completely.
Finally, we pounded in wooden pegs around the bottom of the cover to hold it in place. And now it was almost complete. I built a little firepit in the middle of the floor and got a nice fire going. My sister had already hung a buffalo hide over the door, and was closing up the smoke flaps. The smoke held inside while my fire burned would cure the cover and make it waterproof.
I walked up a hill at the back of our camp. The sun was beginning to set and the circle of tipis began to glow from the fires inside. My tipi stood out as it was as white as snow, but soon it would be cream coloured like all the rest. Tomorrow I would begin moving all my belongings into my own home and I would be all grown up… a married woman with a home to take care of.
More information on the Blackfoot Indian tribe.
Notebook Page: Tipi on the Plains
Activity: Make a model tipi. You will need some nice straight long poles (bamboo skewers may work), some fabric for the cover, and a base (cardboard may be best).