Outreach School elder Joseph Deschamps guides students May 22 on how to build a teepee and some of the hand games that the plains Cree people used to play.

Outreach School elder Joseph Deschamps guides students May 22 on how to build a teepee and some of the hand games that the plains Cree people used to play.

Outreach students get introduction into teepee building

Students at the Ponoka Outreach School had a taste of First Nations Culture May 22 with hands-on training and teaching on teepee building.

Students at the Ponoka Outreach School had a taste of First Nations Culture May 22 with hands-on training and teaching on teepee building.

In an effort to educate students at the Ponoka Outreach School, — many of whom are First Nations — school elder Joseph Deschamps gave them an introduction on how to build one.

One of the best ways to learn is by doing so Deschamps brought a small teepee to the Tractor Park in Ponoka and gave both boys and girls a chance at building it. Deschamps said in the old days, it was the women who raised the teepee, which was construction with wood poles and buffalo hides. Teepees today are still constructed with lodge poles but canvas is used rather than buffalo hide.

A relatively short time ago teepees were widely seen on the plains of Western Canada and building one was a skill everyone knew. While the women raised the teepee, the men would hunt and gather food and supplies.

As the world modernizes however, teepees are more limited to powwows and other cultural gatherings.

“When they were nomadic, it was a home,” explained Deschamps.

He started with a tripod of lodge poles that were already tied together and then students added more around the teepee while someone used a rope to tie them all together. Deschamps said their teepee, which had less than 10 poles was relatively small.

He has seen some as large as 25 to 30 feet in circumference. In the past, the teepee would be a home for a family and was generally not decorated. Deschamps said if a person were to paint their teepee with an animal symbol, such as a bear claw or eagle feather, that person would be claiming to have the spirit of that animal and they may have to prove it.

Students were also shown some hand games that Deschamps said were used as one form of entertainment. “These games could go on till 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Deschamps expects to present another class like this again and suggested the girls raised the teepee better than the boys.