By Lyonel Doherty
A new outdoor classroom at Senpaq’cin school is bringing students closer to their culture.
A traditional tipi was erected in the school yard on Nov. 13 when pupils began learning of special protocols by Tony Solomon from the Anishinaabe culture. He was joined by local elders Joe McGinnis and Delphine Armstrong.
The tipi consists of 13 poles, each representing one of the 13 moons of the year. Solomon said they never allow anyone to photograph a tipi while it is being assembled.
“That would be like photographing your grandmother while she’s getting dressed.”
He pointed out that the structure is storm resistant and earthquake proof.
The Indigenous educator invited students and teachers to sit with him in the tipi where he talked about the old ways and protocols.
He stressed that learning about your own culture and protocols will make you a strong person.
“As you get stronger in your mind, heart and spirit, you get happier, your life becomes very enjoyable, you live a life of joy.”
Once inside the tipi, Armstrong led the singing of a special song, yet another Okanagan protocol.
“You always sing a song . . . that’s our way.”
Solomon touched on one tipi protocol that makes a lot of sense: you always travel in one direction (in a circle) when you enter and leave a wigwam. Safety is the primary reason for this rule.
Solomon and Armstrong sat in specific places of honour in the tipi.
He noted that in his culture, men sleep on one side and the women sleep on the other side.
There are baskets by the door where food and clothing are stored.
Solomon said tipis have existed for more than 20,000 years and are specially designed for travelling because they can be taken down in 30 minutes.
“You could say this is North America’s first RV,” he said to chuckles.
One pupil asked why the tipi was built at Senpaq’cin school.
“They wanted to be able to have it like a special type of classroom,” Solomon explained.
“A classroom? the kid responded, screwing up his face.
Yes, an outdoor classroom where you can learn to sing, drum and speak the traditional language.
“Is this the biggest tipi?” another student asked.
“No,” said Solomon, stating he has made tipis big enough to hold three the same size as Senpaq’cin’s wigwam.
The educator explained that it’s a gift to learn how to choose the right kind of tree to make a tipi.
“The trees are spirits, and this is the type of body they were given.”
When Solomon walks into a forest looking for poles, he conducts a ceremony involving a prayer and the offering of tobacco.
“I explain to the trees why I am there. I am there to look for trees who would like to volunteer to change their life job from providing oxygen and cleaning the atmosphere (and providing shelter for animals and birds) to being part of a tipi.”
When a student asked who made the first tipi, Solomon said that was a good but serious question. So, he proceeded to tell a sacred story about one of the first children on the planet from the Anishinaabe culture, a spirit with special powers.
Solomon said in the Anishinaabe culture, people strive to live in a good way all of the time.
“Because guess what? This is the only minute we ever have. The past doesn’t exist, the future doesn’t exist. This is the time to be a good person, to live in a good way, to be good things.”
Solomon explained there is a rule from the Creator that everyone respects all things.