Native American Student Union Raises Tipi As a Symbol of Native Importance

NASU Tipi on the Worner Quad. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Sarché

The Native American Student Union (NASU) erected a tipi on the Worner Quad on Monday as a physical reminder for the Native community’s sense of belonging at Colorado College. Visually, the striking structure outside the Worner Center, next to the U.S. flag, evokes the centrality and importance of Native identities in the American Southwest and on campus. “The tipi is, in effect, in its purpose, a home,” explained sophomore Mateo Parsons, Interim Publicist for NASU. “That’s what it serves as and that’s what it has historically served as.” By bringing that symbol to campus, NASU is validating and reinforcing the importance of the Native students at CC.

Students passing by the quad should see the tipi as a symbol of Native identity and respect the spirituality of personal meaning behind it. “It’s not an exhibit, it’s not an art piece; we’re putting it up for a real, spiritual, and personal purpose,” Parsons said. “It’s not to put on display, but we also benefit from the visage of it and the image it creates being in the spot that it’s in.” The location provides ample exposure for anyone on campus, which encourages discussions of Native traditions and sense of place.

When considering the tipi, students must keep in mind that it is an image for the Native community rather than an exhibition for non-Native students. Understanding the significance of the structure increases the respect students show for the tipi. In previous years, students have desecrated the space by vandalizing the tipi and playing inside. “It’s not a place to play, it’s not a tent, it’s not for some kid on campus who just wants to hang out,” Parsons expressed. “We put this up for a purpose, we put this up in remembrance, and also to honor our roots and who we are.” When students’ interactions with the tipi are not consistent with those values, especially when the tipi has been desecrated in the past, those actions serve to erase the Native history and Native identities on campus. Parsons urged students to understand the deep disrespect for and dismissal of Native traditions and students that is inherent to desecrating the tipi.

For Native students, the tipi provides a common connection between diverse tribal cultures. “By and large, we all kind of come from similar backgrounds,” Parson explained. “Despite our different distinct cultural identities or different distinct personal identities, we can all connect on a similar level that allows us to share our diversity with each other and also share in the difficulties presented with that diversity in society, and a lot of those are common.” The tipi is then a way to reach out to members of the Native community and provide a platform for communication and community.

This image and artistic expression of identity “isn’t a symbol that usually people see in spaces like this, so I think that’s especially powerful, especially next to the flagpole and all of the legacy and names that are on that,” Parsons said. “It’s a powerful image to say ‘this is our school too, we’re here, and we’re going to make sure that we feel comfortable and we can express ourselves.’”

NASU puts the tipi up two times each year: once during Native American Heritage Month in November, and once during the annual powwow which takes place this Saturday.

NASU is hosting the 2017 CC Native American Exhibition Powwow in Cornerstone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is open to the public, and visitors can learn more about Native customs, traditions, and clothing while listening to the drums and watching the dances. The Water Is Life Powwow is honoring the water protectors at Standing Rock and at resistance camps across the country that are working against pipelines and desecration of land.

Though not intentionally on the quad during a week when many prospective students are taking tours of the campus, the tipi creates a powerful image for future students getting a glimpse of CC students’ values and identities.

To further the communal goals of inclusion and celebrating diversity, Parsons reminded students that “this is not a play space, and this is not your space to enter unless you’ve been invited.”

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