This is the second post in a series that places the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in Regina into historical contexts of tipi camps and settler responses to Indigenous presence on the prairies. You can check out the first article in the series (here). The third and final article will be available next Friday.
In direct contrast to the opposition to the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, a tipi sits on display on the Saskatchewan Legislature grounds one year earlier, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
(Photo by computer_saskboy on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Part Two: Prohibit and Exhibit: A History of Prairie Tipi Encampments
By Stephanie Danyluk and Katya MacDonald
For the Indigenous people who called the plains home, encampments were central to their everyday cultural, social, spiritual, and political lives. Cultural and spiritual meanings associated with the tipi and encampments are deep and complex; this includes the elements, design, position of the tipi, their ownership, their ceremonial role, and the organization of the camp, to name just a few. Of course, the specific cultural and spiritual meaning and practices associated with tipis and encampments differ among the diverse First Nations of the plains. This article seeks to situate responses to the Justice for Our Children Camp on the grounds of the Saskatchewan Legislature within the historical context of reducing “tipi villages” to ahistorical symbols of Canada’s nationhood. This context is placed vis-a-vis Indigenous perspectives on these camps as sites of cultural, social, and political gathering apart from settler interests.
For early settlers coming into contact with Indigenous plains peoples, tipi encampments were primarily remarked upon for their form and function. Although often ignorantly defined as “primitive,” it is clear that these were autonomous, self-determined, complex spaces. In the late 1860’s, HBC apprentice clerk Isaac Cowie describes a gathering of ”three hundred and fifty large leather lodges” of Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboine, and a small group of Metis, “containing a mix population of probably two thousand five hundred or three thousand.” Cowie’s description of the camp and its purpose make it clear that these Indigenous groups had diverse and complex reasons for gathering. Among these, Cowie lists buffalo hunting, the Sundance ceremony, a gathering of the Warrior’s lodge, and military protection from the Blackfoot. Cowie notes the inhabitants of the camp had varied and divergent interests and were “very far from agreeing on other matters amongst themselves.” In other words, they were diverse cultures with diverse needs, and sought to be treated as such.
After the signing of the Numbered Treaties on the Canadian prairies, settler colonial forces tightened their grip on First Nations with the forced relocation of First Nations onto reserves. As well, increasing controls and colonial violence were perpetrated through the Indian Act with the the banning of cultural gatherings and with the pass and permit system. As colonial controls increased, so too did settler anxiety and fear associated with these encampments, as they symbolized and facilitated the mobility and autonomy of Indigenous peoples. The reactions to a gathering of approximately 3000 Indigenous peoples at Fort Walsh in the spring of 1881–which was to be one of the last gatherings of this kind–provides a stark contrast to Cowie’s account. Continue reading