21st Century Traditional: Beaded Tipi
Those old decorated tipis came to people in visions. Each one had its own story, born out of that person’s space and time. My tipi is a 21st Century vision.
Our elders living today didn’t fight in the Indian wars, they fought in Viet Nam. Our Indian kids living today don’t play much with rawhide gaming wheels, they play with X-boxes. When the men and women sing around the drum, more than likely their drum stick is made out of PVC pipe and a wireless microphone transmits their voices through loudspeakers.
Grandmothers and grandfathers have managed to give us mothers and fathers non-tangibles that are at the heart of what it is to be Indian, and in my case, Kiowa. It is our job to pass those intangibles down to our children. The tools we use to pass those things along…for me, those are just tools.
I have aligned the images on this tipi starting at the doorway, which faces east. A mother and father stand around the door proudly holding their small children. Purposefully I have dressed all of the figures in a mixture of traditional and 21st Century clothing. Moving left, the women occupy the southern side of the tipi: a grandmother in traditional clothing watching a child, a mother in Black Leggings dance clothing walking with her daughter in shorts and a t-shirt, an elderly woman in a Gourd Dance shawl holding an umbrella and wearing iconic high heels. On the western side, the drum occupies the space, men in obviously in today’s world using today’s technology to sing songs that are literally timeless. Continuing to move left, the men occupy the northern side of the tipi. A Gourd Dancer with a rockabilly hair cut, a Viet Nam vet shaking the hand of a new Army recruit, an Oklahoma Grandpa with a little boy.
Above the figures is the sky/myth world: the morning star and the new moon around the eastern doorway, the setting sun at the western side. Spiderwoman and her husband, Stony Road rest above; those great Kiowa beings that survived the flood, before Saynday brought us into this world. On the southern side, the Bear Rock or Devil’s Tower stands with the 7 Kiowa Star Girls above (Pleiades). This was a story I grew up hearing many times. I have included the Big Dipper on the opposite side as it stands in the winter night sky, the time for telling stories. The handle is crazy old Saynday leaving his hand print in the stars. A group of buffalo run across the top of the northern side, their medicine being called upon for many things, a soldier’s needs especially.
This tipi is my vision then of 21st Century Traditional—of that passing of intangibles through one generation into the next through dance, ceremony, myth, history, family and community values. These things have helped to make me into the Kiowa that I am. I pray for guidance to pass these most precious things onto my children.
Collection of Brooklyn Museum of Art (click HERE to go to museum online collection)
Dimensions (w/base): h-46", l-32.5", w-29"
Materials: brain tanned deer hide, charlotte cut beads, seed beads, bugle beads, glass beads, sterling silver beads, pearls, shell, raw diamonds, had stamped sterling silver, hand stamped copper, cotton cloth, nylon "sinew" rope, pine, poplar, bubinga