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  • Caylie Gnyra

Lakeland Tipi Raised Ahead Of Autumn Equinox

A crowd gathered as the tipi was raised. Photo Caylie Gnyra

Over 50 Lakeland College staff and students gathered on the grass just north of Alumni House on the Vermilion campus the morning of September 20 to witness and participate in the tipi raising led by Lakeland’s Indigenous Student Support Manager and Cree knowledge keeper Tinisha Young.

This raising was significant for Young: as a student in Lakeland’s business program, she was on the college’s first Indigenous Students” Council back in 2016. Seven years later, the work and the dedication of the Indigenous Students’ Council has resulted in a remarkable feat: having all five of Lakeland College’s senior leadership team present in the same place at the same time. President and CEO Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Vice President of Academic and Research Dr. Todd Sumner, Chief Financial Officer James Smith, Vice President of People and Cultural Services Kent Hummelle, and Vice President of External Relations and Infrastructure Georgina Altman all attended the event, with some even helping place the tipi poles.

The presence of all five senior administrators reflected the college community’s eagerness to learn about and honour Indigenous traditions and values. Leading a tipi raising on her own for the first time post-graduation in front of a group of people, Young invited spectators to become active participants. When Young asked for a volunteer to help tie a knot around the top of the first four poles, Wainwright-Steward called out, “What kind of knots do you want?” to which Young replied with laughter, “Strong ones!”

Young explained that tipis are a woman’s symbol: they represent the safe space of Mother Earth’s skirt, which is why ribbon skirts are worn to sweat lodges, ceremonies, and other significant events. Lakeland’s tipi is made of canvas, but historically, tipis on the prairies were made of 16 to 22 buffalo hides sewn together with sinew, a thread-like lace made from buffalo tendons.

Young then explained the meanings of each of the tipi poles—obedience, respect, humility, happiness, love, faith, kinship, cleanliness, thankfulness, sharing, strength, good child rearing, hope, and ultimate protection—and how they each provide guidance in parenting.

Following the raising of the tipi, Young invited the group inside to smudge—that is, praying with smoke—using four sacred plant medicines. Tobacco, she explained, is for communication, “Like our telephone line straight up to Creator, sending up our prayers.” Sweetgrass, she continued, carries Mother Earth’s sweet aroma: braided like Mother Earth’s hair, every strand holds its own meaning. Sage—a woman’s medicine, found plentifully in this area—cleanses negative energy, while Cedar purifies.

The date of the raising was chosen so that the tipi could be up to welcome the winter months in a good way through the autumn equinox—the point at which the hours of daylight and darkness in a 24-hour period are exactly equal. This year, the equinox occurs on Saturday, September 23 at exactly 12:50 a.m. At the autumn equinox, the sun appears directly above the Earth’s equator, crossing from north to south. In fact, the term ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

Following the tipi raising, attendees enjoyed soup and bannock catered by Denise Waskewitch of Onion Lake Cree Nation.

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