Tipis Encampment

The Tipi: A Home, A Shelter, A Way of Life

Hunting has been, for a long time, our way of life. Each season, we would move with the animals, following their tracks. We needed a shelter that could move with us, and the tipi became our home.  In our Stoney language, we called it the tibi. But when we met Westerners for the first time, they thought we meant “tipi”, which is how the name came to be.

Everyday, while our men were out hunting, we would take care of our children, the cooking, and our tipi. Each time we moved camp, we had to take down our tipi for the journey ahead, and put up our tipi when we arrived at our next camp.

This spectacular view shows a Stoney encampment near Mount Wilson, on the North Saskatchewan River, about 1920. The women were responsible for the tepees and pack horses while the men were away hunting. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 263/NA71-5985.

Usually a tipi would have 10 to 16 poles, cut from fir, pine or spruce trees. The number of poles depended on how long we stayed in one place. If we moved every few days, we would have less poles, to make it easier for us to set up and take down. We would save and cure the hides of the animals, to use as the covering for the tipi.

We tied together three poles, in a triangular formation, to form the base for the tipi, before laying the rest of the poles against it. The hides were wrapped around the poles, leaving an opening for the doorway. In the middle of the tipi, we would build a fire to cook with, that also helped us to keep warm.

Two special poles were used to control the flaps at the top of the tipi, that we call ears. We would open the ears when we cooked, to let out the smoke. At night, we would close the ears to keep the draft, wind, or rain from coming in.

Tipis near Morley on the “Stoney Reserve”, Alberta. [ca 1930s] Glenbow Archives (NA-1241-376)
In the summertime, we could sometimes find Saskatoon berries and other fruits to eat, allowing us to stay in one location for a longer time. If there were spruce trees nearby, we could also use its tree bark to cover our tipi. We would peel the bark only from the bottom of the tree, so that it could grow back and not harm the tree.

Today, we use canvas covering for our Tipis Encampment at the Chiniki Cultural Centre, to protect the structure against the weather conditions and wind we have in the Rocky Mountains. However, we continue to set up our tipis in the way that our ancestors once did, and use it for the traditions that remain important to our culture.

We invite you to tour our tipis on your visit to our Centre, and participate in one of our experiential activities hosted by our elders and other nation members. Come, enjoy, be inspired by our food and our culture.

The Chiniki Cultural Centre is located next to the Trans-Canada Highway (Exit 131, Morley Road). Our cultural exhibition is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and our gallery shop, along with Stones Restaurant, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. We offer tours of our Tipis Encampment on request, included with admission into our cultural exhibition.

Our facility is wheelchair accessible, has free Wi-Fi internet access and can accommodate group bookings. We encourage visitors to share photos of their #ChinikiCulture and #StonesRestaurant experiences with us online via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.