Reviving the Art of the Tipi

Reviving the Art of the Tipi

Joe Lanceley says the tipi is a visible representation of efforts toward reconciliation.

If you a see a large tipi on display in Lac du Bonnet, you have Joe Lanceley to thank for it.

He recently crafted a traditional tipi for the Lac du Bonnet District Museum, which is bringing awareness to Indigenous heritage in our region. Known as Tipi Joe, Lanceley is the owner of Tipi Joe Creations and the director of the non-profit group Red Willow Tipi. A member of Saskatchewan’s Mistawasis First Nation, he is of Metis-Cree heritage and grew up in Brandon, Man., where he pursued his business education at Brandon University before eventually settling in Winnipeg.

An entrepreneur from an early age with a diverse work history, he has owned several businesses along the way. Lanceley is well-known as a multimedia artist, business owner and educator. Always creating and learning new things, Tipi Joe Creations has become an admired business model for innovation and product design. “When I was a teen my parents and some friends started Red Willow Tipi, and the purpose was to preserve Indigenous culture — some of which was being lost at the time,” Lanceley says.

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The Lac du Bonnet District Museum tipi. CREDIT: Michelle Wazny

When the 1997 Canada Games were held in Brandon, Lanceley got a firsthand look at a tipi village constructed there, and that’s where he had his first experience with the traditional structure. He began making and erecting his own tipis, and it was while he took part in creating a tipi village on the grounds of the Winnipeg Folk Festival that he became known as Tipi Joe. As director of Red Willow Tipi, he works a lot in schools where he provides a variety of workshops for kids and adults of all ages, providing a high-quality learning experience that incorporates Indigenous culture and teachings through the arts.

Workshops include drum making, mini-tipis, mini-drum, soapstone carving, seven sacred teachings, watercolours and tipi demonstrations. “I want to provide something that wasn’t there for me growing up. It was different when I was in school. We weren’t taught about Louis Riel; residential schools weren’t mentioned. Sharing a beautiful part of our culture and showing people the beauty of the tipi in its natural environment creates an easy dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous people.”

The tipi has changed somewhat over time. At one time, tipis were constructed from animal hide, but today are made of canvas (a lighter material). Lanceley harvests the poles in the winter months (they’re either white/black spruce or tamarack) because it’s far easier to do when it’s not hot and there are no bugs, he says. Once the poles are harvested, he can make a tipi in three days.

While he loves the work that goes into it, for Lanceley, it’s the meaning of the tipi and being able to share that meaning that is most gratifying. It also creates an opportunity for Indigenous people to reconnect with their culture, he adds.

“I see that happen quite a bit. I’ve seen people who were part of the Sixties Scoop who grew up in non-Indigenous homes separated from their culture and as people go to reclaim their heritage, they have opportunities to do that in the tipi. The knowledge I have of this particular kind of structure is important to share with others.”

It also helps facilitate important discussions, like the discussion had at the Lac du Bonnet District Museum last summer.

“What I’ve told the museum and others is when you have a tipi, it’s a visible representation of your efforts toward reconciliation. The tipi with its teachings facilitates that interaction in a simple way. Most people, when they experience a tipi for the first time say, ‘Wow, this is really cool. How did you put this together?’ Those conversations are simple and they’re not focused on difficult subject matter. It creates a free flowing and easy dialogue to experience the tipi and learn a bit about Indigenous culture.”

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