Tipis are a common image associated with Aboriginal and First Nations culture. However, their role and meaning are not always fully explored. The Pathways team was at the Tsuu T’ina Rodeo & Pow in July, where we set up two Tipis for guests to rest, visit and share in a feast. Some of our staff even sleep in the Tipi over the weekend. This is an annual event we take part in, and the volunteering we do over the weekend mirrors the regular work we do with our clients.

First, the structure of the Tipi must be made. We set-up the three largest poles first to create a stable base. At Pathways, our goal is to strengthen children, youth and families in the Calgary area through our support services.

Next, we add one more pole to make the doorway. Traditionally, the door faces east towards the rising sun. Alternatively, Tipis would be arranged in a circle facing one another.  Children could play in this open space under the care of their families. Pathways CSA provides youth workers to support parents and youth in our mentor homes program. As one mentor mother says, “we are not alone as we try to make a difference.”

After adding more poles and continuously wrapping them with rope, we added our final pole with the Tipi cloth attached so that we could unfold it and cover the entirety of our frame. The cloth is often painted or decorated on the outside, reflecting the culture of the owner or the tribe he or she comes from. Each Tipi is unique, just like each of the families that we work with.

Once wrapped, we pegged the cloth down to prevent the wind from taking the Tipi. Pathways staff work with their clients to help them manage external forces appropriately. Our Healthy Families team offers in-home visitation that helps families with new babies adjust. One client, a new immigrant with no family to rely on, praised her home visitor for helping her manage this new life:

I am a young first time mom. When my daughter was born, everything in our life was falling apart. I was very tired and now everything has changed. I feel very fortunate to have my home visitor.

Two final poles are added to the flaps at the top of the Tipi to keep them open, allowing smoke to escape from the fire inside. Without this final touch, the Tipi would burn up. Our programs are all opportunities for our clients to let their own smoke out in a healthy way, ensuring their family’s continued strength.

As we support clients with our regular work, we set up the Tipi at the Tsuu T’ina Pow Wow & Rodeo and volunteer in order to give back to our community and celebrate community unity and wellness.