SEATTLE – When Gary E. LaPointe, Rosebud Sioux and a military veteran, heard the Crow Creek Sioux in South Dakota were fighting to hold onto 7,100 acres of land that had been seized by the IRS to pay a purported tax bill, his first thought was that the tribe must set up a tipi on the site.
“The Lakota term ‘tipi’ has passed into many Native and European languages, including English. But the literal translation of the Lakota word is ‘they live there.’ That’s the message the people at Crow Creek need to send about their land. They’re still there.” Furthermore, LaPointe added, Indian cultures are still here. “We are not just in the history books.”
However, the Navy veteran, who runs Seattle-based Northwest Tipi Sales and Rentals, also learned Crow Creek doesn’t have a tipi to take to the site. So he decided to seek donations for one or two structures with accompanying liner to take to the reservation.
“Large tipis, like the ones I want to acquire for Crow Creek, can cost somewhat over $3,000. They’re made of heavy canvas, with an outer layer as well as an inner lining that’ll be essential for the tribe’s chairman, Brandon Sazue, who is praying and fasting at the site – ‘forever, if necessary,’ he says. It’s very cold and snowy in the Dakotas now, so Chairman Sazue will need the additional protection from the weather a liner provides.”
The ancient design of the tipi has advantageous features, LaPointe said. “The space between the inner and outer layers regulates the flow of air if you have a fire in winter or if you want extra ventilation in summer. And staked down, a tipi withstands 100-mile-per-hour winds.”
Waziyatawin, Ph.D., Wahpetowan Dakota from Upper Sioux and a historian at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, was excited to hear about LaPointe’s fundraising efforts. “Gary is right on. Our traditional housing makes the most sense on the landscape. A tipi is also a reflection of our worldview, our values, and a way of life that sustained our people for thousands of years.”
To produce the structures, LaPointe cuts his own poles and purchases canvas coverings from several tipi makers. “Making the poles is a family activity for me and my wife and kids. On the trips, we also harvest medicines and timpsila. My kids will always remember doing these things and be proud of who they are.” Those who are familiar with a tipi’s construction can assemble one quickly, LaPointe said. “My family and I can put one up in 15 minutes and take it down in less than five.”
LaPointe’s plans for his business include exploring varied ways to offer its services. For example, he can rent entire tipis at powwows, or he can offer just the poles for people who want to bring their own covers but don’t want to transport the heavy poles. He’ll also soon contact bed and breakfasts in the Northwest to discuss rentals. “I can set up a tipi for them on Memorial Day and take it down on Labor Day.” He also acts as a cultural ambassador, doing programs in schools like tipi-building, storytelling, Lakota language lessons, and music.
Right now, though, LaPointe is focused on Crow Creek. “What’s happening there affects all of Indian country. If their land can be seized, it can happen to any tribe.”
Contributions for the Crow Creek tipis can be sent to LaPointe’s PayPal account; contact him for instructions via email@example.com.