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Spiritual and cultural

Tipi at Grenfell Campus a tie to Indigenous culture, supports well-being

Student Life

By Melanie Callahan

A white tipi on the lawn in front of Grenfell’s Arts and Science Building has changed the campus landscape.

A tipi is a large cone-shaped canvas structure with a door and hole for smoke to escape.

The structure holds great significance in Indigenous culture.

The Grenfell tipi is a campus landmark and a visual representation of the university’s journey of reconciliation and the Indigenous ways of knowing that are incorporated into the university’s learning and physical spaces, says Kristen Pittman, Grenfell Campus’s manager of Indigenous Affairs.

Watch a time-lapse video of the tipi being erected below.

“As it holds both spiritual and cultural value, the commissioning of a tipi provides a designated place for learning, celebration, ceremony and gathering,” she said. “The tipi is a welcoming and usable space for Indigenous gatherings, to host elders on campus and for teaching spaces centered on Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.”

The structure will be used from spring to fall and made available to the community, students, faculty and staff for workshops, small classes and events.

The tipi can comfortably fit 25 people.

A closeup of birch bark wrapped around wooden poles leaning against a tipi with a large canvas tipi in the background.
Birch bark on a previously constructed tipi at Grenfell Campus.
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

Ms. Pittman says the presence of the structure will expand Grenfell’s appeal to a broader audience from Indigenous backgrounds, while also strengthening its relationships with Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous youth in our community to see themselves represented within the grounds of Grenfell Campus, and imagine themselves in these learning spaces.”

In addition to being a valuable contribution to indigenization, the tipi will play a role in the health and wellness of Grenfell’s students.

Kristin Pittman stands against a building window as it reflects a nearby building. She is standing in the foreground; in the far background are several long wooden poles leaning against each other while upright, creating the formwork for a tipi. The grass is intensely green.
Kristen Pittman was on hand the day the tipi was installed on the lawn at Grenfell Campus.
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

For Indigenous students who may have moved away from their communities and families, adjusting to life on campus can be a difficult transition.

“Providing ties to culture allows students to build an overall sense of well-being,” said Ms. Pittman. “Having a land-based learning environment can deepen learning opportunities and help students understand Indigenous ontologies and approaches to wellness, health and land.”


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