Members of the St. Mary’s University community met with Elder Randy Bottle on May 17 and 18 to brave snow and rain and began the first major steps towards raising a tipi on the St. Mary’s campus.
Though the weather may not have been ideal on the first day, the significance of honouring the traditional ways of selecting and harvesting the tipi poles energized those in attendance and provided a bit of insight into the challenges faced by those who came before.
“I can’t say I was excited when I got up the first morning of the tipi pole harvest to discover it was raining in Calgary and snowing in the area we were harvesting poles,” said Erin Fidler, a first-year Bachelor of Education (Elementary) student at St. Mary’s University. “Our Elder, Randy, however assured us that everything happens for a reason and that this may be a reminder to us as we harvest our tipi of the hardships the ancestors faced.”
Hiking through the forest, searching for the right type, height and width of tree; maneuvering these large poles out of a densely wooded area while navigating rough terrain were all some of the challenges faced before branches were pruned and bark was hand-scraped on all of the soon-to-be tipi poles.
“There’s no better teacher than experience, there’s no better teacher than the land, truthfully,” said Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University. “Being on the land and finding our lodge poles and doing the de-barking ourselves and having that experience as a community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, taught us what it’s like to be on the land. What it’s like to care for a lodge pole.”
“Experiences like this, getting to do things together, to learn from and with, are going to make the difference.”
It is that feeling of community that Scott has come to cherish and embrace. Having spearheaded the idea to carry the tipi and do it in a traditional manner may have started as an idea but has been supported every step of the way.
“I don’t feel like I’m alone in this,” explained Scott. “Sometimes I forget the gravity of the situation because I’m doing it. What is really humbling for me is knowing that I am not alone, that there are a lot of people who care and understand the significance of this. It’s not just me who’s excited about the tipi poles.”
From a community perspective the traditional way of carrying a tipi is symbolic of St. Mary’s commitment to continually seeking to make the institution a safer space for Indigenous learners and the Indigenous community as a gather place.
The significance of the moment and the efforts of the volunteers involved in the pole harvest was not lost on Fidler either, who may not have understood the power this journey may have had when she volunteered but quickly came to understand the impact this journey has had on herself and the others involved.
“When I signed up to help, I did not realize it would happen, but I feel an incredible sense of pride, investment and connection in these wooden poles and the tipi itself,” said Fidler. “I am excited to see the tipi put together and up at St. Mary’s so I can make even more memories connected to the tipi and so that others may create memories too.”
“Even now, seeing the poles up at St. Mary’s gives me a sense of community and hope for the initiatives, relationships and memories yet to come.”