July 14, 2010

Tipis beyond the Plains

Correspondent DMarks sent this photo as evidence that Indians used tipis beyond the Great Plains. It was taken in the Grand Traverse Bay area, he writes, onthe eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where I am, and where the Natives (Odawa? Ojibwe?) used to camp in tipis on the shore. I've been told that our Holiday Inn is where the camp was.

My response:

One, the dwellings on the right look like they're made of bark, not fabric. That might qualify them as wigwams, not tipis.

Two, I think we have to be leery of any photographic evidence. By the time photography came around in the late 19th century, tribes had been contaminated by a couple hundred years of European contact.

The best evidence would be drawings, paintings, or reports from an initial-contact situation. Anything after that becomes a record of a culture in transition.Why would a "culture in transition" choose to adopt tipis?Most tribes were relocated to reservations or at least forced to move from their traditional homelands. A different location or climate might've made their old style of home-building impractical.

Another factor is that this is exactly when the Plains Indians became well-known and popular. A tribe catering to visiting tourists might've adopted tipis to impress them. Or a tribe newly dependent on the government might've received tipis as an agency's idea of "Indian housing."

DMarks adds:And finally check out this page:Tipi stock photography imagesInteresting mixture of historic Native use of tipis in photos, modern Native use of tipis, and stereotypical/out of place usage.Yes, indeed.

For some recent stereotypical uses of tipis, see Review of Apache vs. Gladiator, "Tardicaca Indians" in South Park, and Rapacious Cavalrymen in Family Guy.

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