On Tuesday, June 21, National Aboriginal Day, the University of Calgary will present its inaugural Campfire Chat on St. Patrick’s Island. This will be a special event where the community can learn and experience our heritage and First Nations traditions. In addition to a talk by Elder Reg Crowshoe about the aboriginal history of our region, Stampede Indian Princess alumna, Amelia Crowshoe and her family will paint her tipi. We talked to Amelia about the tradition of tipi design and how her experience as Indian Princess has impacted her life. (Read more about the University of Calgary’s Campfire Chat after the interview!)
Calgary Stampede: Your tipi will be painted at the Campfire Chat–Why is your tipi being painted?
Amelia Crowshoe: My grandfather is transferring the tipi design to me. He had a dream about this design and surprised me a couple of months ago with the news that he would be transferring the design to me. In Blackfoot tradition, you can obtain a tipi design in a number of ways: a dream (from creator or spirit world); it can be passed down through the family; or you can approach someone for a transfer of a design.
CS: Can you tell us about the tradition of tipi design?
AC: The Blackfoot people are one of few that still do tipi design transfer. Each design is special to the owners and each design has a story. The stories are sort of privileged information and there is a process to learn about the design. If you want to hear the story of the design, you make an offering to the owner—like tobacco—to honour the information and sharing of the story.
There are common themes in tipi designs. The top of the tipi represents the stars and constellations that are important to our people. The story of the design is told in the middle. At the bottom, the designs symbolize where the story took place. A flat line represents the prairies, bumps represent the foothills and peaks represent the mountains.
On some designs there is a cross at the back that represents the moth. This indicates that the design came from a dream.
Different symbols indicate that the design is from the spirit world or from one of our origin or foundational stories.
CS: What is it like to paint a tipi?
AC: To paint a tipi in the right way, you have to be transferred the rite to paint a design. This is a process that we follow in our culture where the knowledge is passed in a way that maintains the integrity of the practice. In our family, my grandpa designs the tipi. He stretches out the tipi canvas, creates the design the way that he was transferred, and then we paint it as a family. It’s such a large undertaking but once you finish and set it up, it’s so amazing to see the work on the canvas. It’s an honouring of the stories of our people.
It’s special to me that I have been witness to a cultural practice that not a lot of people do anymore.
CS: What will you be painting on your tipi and why?
AC: We will be painting a dragonfly design. It was a big shock to hear that my grandfather was transferring this design to me. When you get a tipi you always have a home, no matter where you are or where you will be.
My mom, sister and I were given a tipi design when I was young –but it’s a big deal to have a tipi design of my own. Having a tipi of my own is considered a rite of passage in our culture. I will have the privilege of taking care of the design and passing it on to my children or whomever it belongs to next.
CS: Where will your tipi go once it is painted?
AC: Most people only see tipis set up during Stampede in Indian Village. They don’t understand that these are our homes traditionally. When we have family gatherings, or if we want to camp out we set up tipis. We live in them when we go to sacred ceremonies. We set them up whenever we can.
CS: Has your experience as the Indian Princess impacted your life in the years that followed?
AC: Big time. My year as the Indian Princess still follows me around, which is a good thing. I feel really honoured to have been the Indian Princess during the Centennial. The experience taught me a lot about myself and gave me lots of confidence. Living as a First Nations woman in Calgary, I am able to educate others about my people, our culture and build positive relationships.
The public speaking experience, in particular, has been a huge asset in my job. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I was hired!
CS: And what are you up to these days?
AC: I’m the communications coordinator for the Alberta First Nations Governance Centre which is a First Nations data and research organization.
CS: Have you heard about the new Indian Village in ENMAX Park?
AC: Yes, I’m really excited to see it. I grew up in the Indian Village at the south end of the Park, so I was a little sad to see it move, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the new space.
The University of Calgary’s Campfire Chat is part of their 50th anniversary celebration this year. It is going to be a very special way to recognize and celebrate National Aboriginal Day. Below is a schedule of the day’s events. If you would like to attend the chat by Elder Reg Crowshoe, make sure you register on their website.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 1-8 p.m.
1300 Zoo Road NE (access via 12 St. SE in Inglewood)
Rain or shine
AFTERNOON – Family-friendly event (come and go)
1 p.m. Triple tipi-raising
2 p.m. Tipi-painting demonstration
3 p.m. Traditional drumming and dancing supported by the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary
EVENING – RSVP required
6:30 p.m. Campfire chat with Reg Crowshoe, former chief of
Piikuni First Nation