I'll tell you a story: Elder lesson as told by Elder Deliah Twig of the Kainai Nation


Oki…Hello…I’m Deliah Twig. My spouse is Pat Twig. We were born and raised here (at Kainai)... We went to school here. Today I’d like to speak about the tipi, mainly the tipi design (painted on the tipi).

These designs, they all originate from dreams. They’re transferred. There’s a ceremony you go through to get the right to have that design… An Elder will conduct the ceremony. There’s a lot to the transfer…. There’s a lot of different little parts in that transfer.

I saw this tipi in a dream, but I didn’t realize that it was actually given to us, that it was a gift. It’s the Spirit People, the spirit beings, they’re the ones that give you these designs. You can’t just say ‘oh, I really like this. It’s such a pretty design… I’m going to take it.’

Not everybody has a design. Usually, it’s a gift from the spirits, and it does have a lot of power. The spirit beings gave you this design because it has some power. And it’s really not yours. You’re the keeper of it. And what happens is you help out with prayers. That’s the power of the design.

Kainai tipi

The different sections of the design:

The top part of the design is usually black… That represents the night sky, the spirit beings, the stars, the universe.

The ear flaps. On the North side is the dipper. On the South side is the cluster. And these two have great significance about the children. They’re basically reminders to us how powerful the children are. Both of these, the dipper and the cluster, have stories about children escaping harm or danger. The power that they have as children to be able to overcome these obstacles and to be able to steer away from danger. That’s why we draw those, to remind us basically. So they have great significance in our design. (Deliah said there are legends.) When they escaped to live among the stars, that’s the dipper and the cluster.

tipi moth

On the back side of the tipi in the middle, that’s where you see the butterfly or the moth. It looks like a cross, but it isn’t a cross. It has nothing to do with Christianity or anything like that. If we can somehow relate it to dreamcatchers. I don’t know where (dreamcatchers) came from, but that’s somebody else’s (story). Us Blackfoot, that butterfly or the moth, it signifies that’s where the dreams connect to the universe and to the people, the one dreaming.

Just below that you’ll see rings. Usually that signifies the rainbow. I’ve heard a couple of different explanations for those rings, but the one that I know is of the rainbow. And then some said that that was actually the morning star and the evening star.

We’re still discovering a lot about who we are. We lost a lot of this knowledge, basically through boarding school. And we’re just in the part of our lives of rediscovering who we are. The spirit beings are actually helping us to start understanding those things again.

So, the middle section… that’s where you draw your spirit being. It could be the flyers, the swimmers or the four-legged… And that’s really what you see in the dream. When I dreamt this, that’s the one that I remembered seeing, and the colours. And that’s the being that has kind of taken pity on you and has kind of shared their spirit for the wellbeing of yourself and to the people. It was a horse that I saw. So somehow the horse becomes quite a significant part of, not just my life, but the ones that have come to the camp…

At the bottom part of the tipi, you’ll notice that there’s, it’ll either be pointy, that would signify the mountains, or else maybe they’ll be round and that will signify the hills… where that being roams… So if it was a bear, it would be pointy, because the bear is usually in the mountains. So this is the connection. Or maybe, the prairie, it would be just flat. But nonetheless the bottom part is the earth being.

All of that that is painted on the tipi, they’re all beings.

Where we are today, the earth, where we live, it’s all represented… it brings everything together. Our being is all represented… That’s what makes it so powerful. Everything comes together…. It represents all of life.