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Embracing Legacy: SLC's Tipi Project and Its Enduring Impact

SLC tipi

The Tipi Project was a collaborative effort that brought together various individuals with diverse skills and expertise to create a unique campus space at St. Lawrence College. Led by our then Indigenous Knowledge Keeper, Helena Neveu, the Tipi Project began in January 2023 as an initiative to establish a space on the Kingston campus for ceremony and education in Indigenous Ways of Knowing & Being.  Honouring the spirit of the land and the traditions of the Haudenosaunee & Anishinaabe people, we gather under the shelter of this tipi‚Äča symbol of unity, respect and cultural harmony.  While not the original dwelling of our ancestors, this tipi stands as a testament to the enduring connections we share with the earth and with each other.  

Many different groups of SLC students and staff were invited to participate in the various steps involved in the Project, from debarking the logs to the final ceremony in which the tipi was erected.

Key players from the Skilled Trades Department were crucial in securing funding, organizing and managing time and resources, procuring materials, constructing various elements essential to the tipi, and guiding students in their respective areas. Together, instructors and students built a physical structure and provided an invaluable learning experience for the students involved. They created comfortable and functional seating in the tipi; a storage shed, including its timber frame, floor, windows, doors, siding, and standing seam roof that provides shelter and protection for the structure; and an aesthetically appealing fire bowl, central to cultural teachings and ceremonies.

The students in ARTS6021 (1st year, second semester drawing) were invited to design and draw the artwork for the tipi. The students took influence from the story of the origin of the Anishinaabe Peoples and the Seven Grandfather Teachings, shared by Helena in a classroom visit. They created original designs on scaled paper models of the tipi and then collaborated to create a design that incorporated elements from the original designs of each student. They worked together to render the design onto the full-size tipi canvas. To work on a scale as large as this (from a model that stood 12” tall to a canvas that is 24’ tall) was a unique challenge and an opportunity not often provided in the classroom. This required the students to employ their skills of gridding up, rub-on transfer, and stencil creation, and introduced them to using tools, terms, and skills of construction and building trades.

When the drawing phase was concluded, a select team of painters was invited to complete the artwork by painting the designs on the tipi.

Led by Anishinaabe Elder and Sundancer, Bernard Nelson, the tipi was erected on April 30th, by a group of SLC employees and community members. It was introduced to the larger SLC family at the Learning Connections Conference in mid-May. 

The Tipi Project was an outstanding example of collaboration, motivation, dedication, and education that will have a lasting impact on the College and its community for years to come.

A partial list of participants in the Tipi Project is included below:

  • Project Lead and Cultural Advisor: Helena Neveu
  • Coordinator and Overseer of Skilled Trades Initiatives: Steve Dick
  • Skilled Trades Instructors/Facilitators: David Sims (shed and seating); Erica Schaly (shed); Leanne Rheme (funding procurement and timber frame of shed); Professor Jamie Seaby (standing seam roof on shed); and Julian Melow (fire bowl).
  • Coordinator of Art Initiatives: Heather Savage (Professor of Drawing)
  • Student Artists: Katie Belec, Kyra Culp, Loren Frame, Maeve Haws, Fernanda Loredo Del Valle Prieto, Michelle Regalado Orellana, Aldo Rodriguez Pino, Julian Saringan, and Xuan “Bella” Yang
  • Painters: Bree Rappaport (Artist); Shemia Nelson (SLC Alumni, Anishnaabe Artist); Heather Savage (Professor & Curator), and Helena Neveu (Indigenous Knowledge Keeper)

Artwork on the tipi depicts the animals that represent each of The Seven Grandfather Teachings and the landscape that first man travelled across on his journey to meet his father.

Animals of the 7 Grandfather Teachings:

  • Beaver - Wisdom
  • Wolf - Humility
  • Eagle - Love
  • Turtle - Truth
  • Buffalo - Respect
  • Grizzly Bear - Courage
  • Sabe (Wildman) - Honesty

Reference: The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway” by Edward Benton-Banai


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