Upon arrival at St. Mary’s University, Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at StMU fell in love with the idea of the institution carrying a tipi but had no idea what the incredible journey would entail.
St. Mary’s has been extremely fortunate to have had many Indigenous Knowledge-Keepers, Elders and community leaders whose combined patience, love and guidance has helped in efforts to make St. Mary’s a welcoming space for Indigenous learners.
“The first few years we concentrated on building capacity for our university; this meant hosting Indigenous scholars on campus, learning from our Elders, Casey Eagle Speaker and Edmee Comstock and focusing on building relationships with Indigenous communities in and around Calgary,” said Scott.
“Most importantly, we were guide by our Indigenous Advisory Council, which consists of Treaty 7 community members, and stakeholders within the University.”
Upon having a conversation last summer with Saakokoto, Elder Randy Bottle, the conversation around St. Mary’s carrying a tipi was discussed where Elder Randy Bottle let Scott know that he had the rights to transfer a tipi and when the school was ready the conversation could occur.
At an Advisory Council meeting in October of 2016 the idea of carrying a tipi was once again discussed where it was determined that St. Mary’s was indeed ready for the honour of carrying a tipi.
“We will be gifted with the honour of carrying a tipi on our campus and that we can continue to learn about what it means to carry a lodge,” said Scott. “We can hold classes and ceremonies in the lodge, and have a gathering space which honours Blackfoot ways of knowing and tradition at St. Mary’s.”
“It is important because to have a lodge, a traditional home on this land, our campus, signifies that St. Mary’s is a safe gathering place for Indigenous learners in Calgary.”
The importance of carrying a tipi and the significance of doing it in a traditional way is something that many people do not know.
“Randy mentioned to me that not many people know the traditional way of harvesting poles that he is teaching us,” explained Scott. “This is an important legacy piece, and I am so honoured that Randy has chosen to work with us to teach us the traditional way.”
“Randy is so amazing to work with. His quiet, patient demeanour welcomes curiosity; as he says, it is important to continue to ask if you do not know, it is how you’ll learn. I am honoured that Randy has agreed to teach me, and St. Mary’s the traditional way of harvesting poles and carrying a tipi.”
Representatives from St. Mary’s will be meeting with Elder Randy Bottle on Wednesday, May 17 where they will be locating and flagging the poles for the tipi. The following day, May 18 will incorporate the harvesting of the tipi poles which will then require a month to dry out.
We are excited to collaborate with the Aboriginal Learning Center (CBE) and Ghost River Rediscovery on this project as well. Continuing to build community and relationships is an important part of this process.
St. Mary’s will be hosting a tipi raising ceremony on Monday, June 19 which will feature events and speakers as well as a traditional feast to commemorate the occasion.