While some modern tents were battered by the wind, the oldest housing design on the prairies weathered the storm just fine.

Walking the grounds at First Nations University of Canada early Friday morning, there was a marked difference in the damage to modern tents and tipis set up at the Cultural Village for the North American Indigenous Games. Inside the large modern tents some poles were blown over leaving the tables and chairs scattered in a big mess. But the row of 23 traditional tipis appeared to be undamaged, standing straight against the prairie winds just as they did for centuries.

Wendell Starr is from the Star Blankat Cree Nation and he came to the games as a delegate for the File Hills Qu’appelle Tribal Council. His role at NAIG is an elder’s helper and he explains the significance of the tipis, which are used for cultural teachings and pipe ceremonies at the games.

“In the Treaty 4 territory which covers this area you had five linguistic groups who utilized tipis and those were the Cree, the Saulteaux, the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota peoples,” he said.

The traditional design of the tipi is a cone, with buffalo hide stretched around poles set out in a circle. The aerodynamic shape allows wind to blow around the structure instead of against a flat wall.

“When you have something triangular and the wind comes from the top, instead of lifting it up it kind of pushes it down towards the ground,” Starr said.

He says each different group has a different story about how the tipi came to be, but in every story the tipi holds significance for protection.

“It was basically designed and given to the First Nations people from the Creator to protect us from the elements. Those elements are the sun, the rain, the snow and the wind,” Starr said. “Not only did they represent our home fires, they also represented shelter and protection from those elements.”


Starr says the symbols sewn into the tipis also told the stories of each tribe and individual families. Having tipis on the grounds for NAIG is meant to provide lesson for the younger generations.


“It was important to know your history, know your legacy. The old people tell you to know your language, to know the history of your people and to know where you come from,” he said. “Your family itself had a history, they had a story they had a legacy and some of the designs on the tipis came from your family. So you had to know your language and your teachings.”

Starr believes tipis will be around for a long time to come as generations pass on these skills and teachings.

Responses to "Modern Tents Damaged, But Tepees Stand Up To Stormy Weather"

  1. Grace says:

    Like to know how they bild a teepee.

  2. Byron says:

    Grace, the best source of information regarding tipis is "The Indian Tipi" by Reginald and Gladys Laubin. The book is out of print, but used copies are available at Amazon, Ebay, Powell's bookstore. The Laubins not only provide detailed instructions for making a tipi, but also describe in detail the differences between various tribal tipi designs. They also have information on how to furnish the tipi's interior in a tradional manner and proper tipi etiquette. We have made 3 tipis over the years and can attest to the tipi's ability to withstand extremely violent weather. We can also verify how comfortable a tipi is in hot or cold weather. It is important to realize the tipi was not "just a tent", but was a "home". Many of the mountain men in the early 1800s acquired tipis as soon as they could, when they realized how superior they were to traditional European tents. Good luck.

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