Where We Live – in a Tipi
“Lets not argue about it anymore OK?” “Maybe something will still come up.” “No, I have tried everything, it’s no use.” “But” “No, we have no meat left, there is no food and we have already lost our home, lets face it.” “Maybe we could..” “Listen, we have no choice. We will just have to move into the government housing.”
Natural disaster, catastrophe and calamity can strike down an individual or a community in an instant, depriving them of food, shelter and clothing. In time societies and families rebuild and renew that which was destroyed. Economic recession can also affect access to the necessities of life but in time, financial balance is usually renewed. However societies disintegrate and can never recover when the vital resources for food, clothing and shelter are exhausted or exterminated. What are societies current necessities? and who controls the available resources?
Thipi (Tipi, tepee, teepee) The Lakota words Thi pi means ‘they dwell’ or most commonly ‘dwelling’, referring to the iconic cone shaped tents of the Great Plains tribes of North America. The tipi was an ideal shelter for a nomadic people. Portable for following seasonal advantages, gathering food and forage during summer, moving south in the winter. The tipi was made of wooden poles and an animal hide cover that could be disassembled or reassembled in about an hour. The sloped skin let the rain flow with no catching creases and the wind slipped past with no purchase. A smoke hole at the top had directional flaps that prevented downdraft or rain while being an exit for smoke from a warm interior fire. Light shown in through the translucent skin and light shown out during the darkness of night. The tipi was lightweight, portable and easily transported by dogs.
Dogs were the burden carriers before horses came to Northern New Mexico and the west in 1598. The introduction of horses to the natives changed the culture dramatically and improved their quality of life tremendously. The ability to move faster and travel further, now in tandem with the great bison herds they followed allowed their societies to flourish. Juan de Onate brought the first herd of horses (7,000) when building a Spanish capitol near Santa Fe, NM. The Pueblo Indians soon learned how to handle the horses and where traded a few and in turn traded a few to the hunters on the plains. In the 1680 Pueblo Revolt the Spanish were driven completely from the land. The expulsion did not include the livestock. Comanche where amongst the first tribes to integrate horses, and others soon emulated and adopted the horse culture or as it is sometimes referred to the buffalo culture
The bison was the primary source of food, shelter and clothing for: the Blackfeet, Arapahoe, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota, Lipan, Apache, Cree, Ojibwa and Tonkawa—most of them living in tipis for their personal shelters as they followed the great, virtually unlimited bison herds. They were respectful and cognizant of their resources and used every part of the animal; tools made of bone, the hide for shelter, robes and moccasins and of course the foodstuffs and meat. Their nomadic lifestyle left little impact on the landscape, the grasses and all species would regenerate after each seasons passing through. The quality of life was good, the people were healthy, the waters flowed, there was culture and art and a steady resource of bison. They couldn’t live without their bison.
Westward expansion by frontiersman, settlers and land speculators had reached the Great Plains by the early 1800s. There where around 60 million buffalo in North America at the time. Believing that coexistence with the Indians was impossible the government and military decided to subdue the Indians into submission by depriving them of the one indispensable resource they needed for survival. General Philip Sheridan had said ” let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated” A buffalo hunter could kill 250 a day. For some years after the Civil War as many as 5,000 hides a day where being shipped out by rail car, 5,000 hides every day. By 1884 only 1,200-2,000 bison were left, by 1890 there were only 750 alive. The Indian tribes gradually gave up their tipis and moved on to government reservations. They were decimated from disease and warfare, destitute with the loss of no means of survival. Their source of food, shelter, clothing was gone. It no longer existed.
What is our 21st century buffalo? Could it be exhausted or exterminated like when we lived in a tipi ?