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Tipi Painting

Stan Cuthand

Tipi painting was highly regarded as its symbolism came from a dream or a vision experienced by the owner. It also brought protection to those who lived in it. When transferred it had a good value for exchange. Each tipi had a name referring to its decoration and to the flag hanging from its peak.

A story is told of a man who had experienced such a dream: North of Calgary there is high ground called Nose Hill. Nearby are lakes called Rolling Lakes named for the character of the surrounding rough and rocky land. I was a grown man. I had given up youthful amusements. I sat on the hill one day and saw my father come out of his tipi with a gun on his shoulders. I went down to my grandfather's and changed my moccasins. I dressed warm and took my knife. I followed my father's tracks. After a short distance I heard a gun shot. A little further I came upon buffalo-tracks. I saw drops of blood and followed them up to a slough, and there I saw a buffalo on its back. The head was pointing east. I began to butcher it. I cut a piece of fat from the breast and sat on the head and started to eat. I heard another shot. It was growing late. I heard a wind coming. I lay down in the shelter of the buffalo. It became dark. All night it snowed. My father did not know I had followed him. At about midnight I lost my senses (in a trance). The buffalo spoke:

"My son, I have pity for you. I will give you my tipi. Do you see my grey hair.1" I will give you that also. Here is my tail.2 I give you my tail. Now see the tipi. I give that tipi."

The tipi faced eastward. There was a buffalo painted on the left side and another on the right side.

"My son do not be afraid to make this tipi. I am one with six others who came out of the mountains. Pray to me; I am a jealous being; Do not pray to any other."

I looked at the tipi again. There was a calf skin hanging from its peak. The covering was of buffalo hides.

"Do not give this tipi away; Not to other tribes. Keep it among your people. All evil will not touch you so long as you live in this tipi."3

The buffalo gave me four songs to go with the tipi. That is how I got a painted tipi. I painted one like that a few years ago. I have now had it nearly four years and on the fourth year, I will have to transfer it to someone.

Source: Oral Literature

1. An idiom meaning "a long life".

2. Tail end - used as a flag.

3. "Evil" - bad medicine.