The Cree people use many things to illustrate guiding principles and there are many teachings that can be used when raising a teepee. Here we are sharing with you the guiding principles of the 15 teepee poles we use to build the structure of the teepee.
The teepee represents the woman (in both function and form) and so traditionally the ones to build the teepee were women, though men could certainly help. Before making a teepee, we offer tobacco as a thank you to Mother Earth for lending us the supplies we are borrowing.
During the raising of a teepee, there will often be prayers, teaching, music, singing and sometimes even dancing. Like many things in our culture, it's not just putting up a shelter for us, it has meaning.
The first time we raise a teepee, it should face east for the opening ceremony. The Cree face the doorway east because that represents the beginning of creation.
To start, we bind three poles into a tri-pod that form the supports to the teepee and these poles represent obedience, respect and humility. Every time a pole is added, a rope goes around to bind that pole into place. That rope is a sacred bond, binding all the teachings together until they are all connected.
Accepting guidance and wisdom from outside of ourselves, using our ears before our mouth. We learn by listening to traditional stories, by listening to our parents or guardians, our fellow students and our teachers. We learn by their behaviors and reminders, so that we know what is right and what is wrong.
Giving honor to our Elders and fellow students, to the strangers that come to visit our community, and to all of life. We must honor the basic rights of all others.
We are not above or below others in the circle of life. We feel humbled when we understand our relationship with Creation. Understanding this helps us to respect and value life.
Completes the doorway.
Our good actions will encourage ourselves, others, and our ancestors in the next world. This is how we share happiness.
If we are to live in harmony, we must accept one another as we are, and accept others who are not in our circle. Unconditional love means to be good and kind to one another and to ourselves.
We must learn to believe and trust others, to believe in a power greater than ourselves, whom we worship and who gives us strength to be a worthy member of the human race.
Our family is important to us; this also includes extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and their in-laws and children. They are also our brothers and sisters and give us a sense of belonging to a community.
This refers to spiritual cleanliness. Clean thoughts come from a clean mind and this comes from our spirituality. With a clean mind and sense of peace within we learn not to inflict strife on others. Good health habits also reflect a clean mind.
Always be thankful for the Creator’s bounty, which we are privileged to share with others, and for all the kind things others do for us.
We learn to be part of a family and community by helping with the provisions of food and other basic needs. Through the sharing responsibilities we learn the value of working together and enjoying the fruits of our labor.
This refers to spiritual strength, often instilled through fasting. We must learn to be patient in times of trouble and not complain but endure and show understanding. We must accept difficulties and tragedies so that we face in life.
Children are gifts from the Creator. We are responsible for their wellbeing, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually, since they are blessed with the gift of representing the continuing circle of life, which we perceive to be the Creator’s will.
We must look forward to moving toward good things. We need to have a sense that the seeds we are planting today will bear fruit for our children, families and communities in the future.
This is the responsibility to achieve the balance and well-being of the body, mind, emotions and spirit for the individual, the family, the community and the nation.
The control flaps on a teepee are poles that look like a woman’s arms opening. This is an important teaching that reminds us that we are all connected by relationship. We depend on one another and when we understand this, we have balance and harmony and when we don’t our relationships get smoky and clouded. If we can’t live in balance, we can’t see clearly where we’re going.