The Art of The Wait: Wise Practices in Tipi Setup & Life

Tipis at Siksika
One little.....two little......three little......

Every year, we travel out to Siksika Nation for the August pow wow with our tipi. It’s like going home. Old friends, and a familiarity with the land, the wind, the sun and the moon all contribute to a feeling of well-being as we begin to set camp, days before the actual event. This year is a bit different, with filming for the CAMP project involved. It’s ever so pleasant, I must admit, and a time I’ve come to anticipate each year.

I’m reminded that again and again that the beauty of life is in the process and not in the final statement or product, and yesterday was one of those timely “notes to self.”

Many hands make light work
Many hands make heavy work....lighter.

It requires many hands, much coordination, time and a carefully planned group effort to “get there”. Starting with the dismantling of the tipi canvas at The Banff Centre where it sits, our tipi must be then taken two hours east to the reserve, and set up in our area of the circle.

Yesterday, a nasty little accident happened as we took the canvas down. A crucial top area that wraps on the main pole tore. All the planning that goes into camping at the pow wow went into question just by a ten inch tear in a supporting canvas flap. Quickly, we appealed to the wardrobe department at The Banff Centre to see if there was any possible way that they had an industrial machine strong enough to sew the canvas, and the material to reinforce it. A few layers down through administration, the answer came back from a busy production department that YES!….they could do it. We all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that was the difference between getting to the pow wow…or not, tipi intact.

From 1:30 – 6:30 it was a hectic rush, involving miles of travel, sewing magicians, Gatorade, iPad movies for the kids, five families’ efforts, four vehicles, pole transport truck and a cast of strong men, including my husband who had all worked a full day.

Kevin unloads a pole
One white guy per pole!

And then….

It was “hurry up and wait”. Old Ivan, the “tipi master” who each year comes and directs us as to where, exactly…and “how”…..exactly we need to set up our tipi (and our friends the Breaker’s neighbouring tipi)…..was nowhere to be found.

Two pole
Two pole, (the joke of the night!)

It’s not like we don’t know how, and couldn’t do it without him, that’s for sure! After five years of setting up and taking down poles and canvas time and time again, there was a missing piece to the puzzle, and that was Ivan.

It’s about process and protocol, and respect and family relations. We just can’t set up without Ivan, the same way that we can’t set up without the canvas being sewn, and despite hours of driving, sweat and hurry, we waited. Not having Ivan was as bad as forgetting your poles, or trying to raise a ripped tipi. It just wouldn’t work right.

Grandpa Tom's trailer
Grandpa Tom's trailer set up in lots of time for the pow wow at Siksika.

As the day waned and turned to the gloaming, we talked with each other, caught up and had a lot of laughs. Friends enjoyed a bucket of chicken in the shade of their trailer.

And still we waited for Ivan to arrive.

We watched the kids play with each other, making fast friends for life, only having met each other moments before. We witnessed one of those unique Siksika sunsets and were eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

And still we waited for Ivan to arrive.

We made friends with a cowering rez dog looking for a snack. We laughed at each other’s ability or lack thereof….to carry a tipi pole on their own. We waved at those passing by, checking out the setup for the upcoming weekend.

And still we waited for Ivan to arrive.

Sunset at Siksika
Day's End....

Two riders galloped past at a breakneck pace, enjoying an evening ride with five dogs leading the way. A loose horse magically tore across the prairie under the rising moon.

And still we waited for Ivan to arrive.

Grace blew bubbles and hunted grasshoppers in the newly cut prairie grass. We marvelled and took it all in. The sunset became fire alive and set a glow on everything around us and upon us and in us.

And still we waited for Ivan to arrive.

Realizing something might be amiss, our party leader grabbed one of the cars and went to look for Ivan. After awhile, he arrived back at the grounds, not having found him. The men discussed amongst themselves what should be done. Despite the efforts of maybe 20-30 people today, we decided that the tipis would have to wait until tomorrow night to rise on the prairie.

Moonrise Over Siksika
Moonrise Over Siksika

And so, tonight we rinse and repeat…hopefully with Ivan.

I am glowing with the fact we get to do it all over again, and I don’t care that I’m tired, or that it was a long day, or that we plan for this a year in advance. Would that I could live every last day of my life repeating these exquisite moments of love and joy with family and friends.



This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Cori

    Beautiful story and photos…my partners wondering why I don’t get a grant for camping, as she gets ready for another River trip on the Nahanni River. I wish I could join you for the Pow Wow…maybe just maybe.

    I hope Ivan arrives.
    Love Cori

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