On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to help the Chiskamish family build a michuap (teepee). Michuap are frequently used by the Cree as a kitchen and gathering place throughout the summer months. They are also built for walking out ceremonies.
We met Marie Jane and Charlene Chiskamish at two of the daycares. Marie Jane runs the Head Start program at one daycare and Charlene is in charge of another daycare. Their sister, Agnes, invited us to her twins’ walking out ceremony that was scheduled for Thursday. We asked if we could help them build the michuap.
It was hard work! We helped carry the poles made from trunks of small trees that had been cleaned of their branches and bark. We carried these to the chosen spot of ground where they were building the Michuap.
Next, the poles were lifted into the air and threaded together like a giant game of pick-up sticks.
When we got there, there were only a few poles set up around the stone fireplace at the centre of the chosen spot.
The building of the michuap was traditionally a woman’s role, although these days, men help too. Building a michuap requires an experienced elder, in this case, Elizabeth Chiskamish, Charlene and Marie Jane’s mother. There is a particular arrangement in which the wooden poles need to be placed, or else the michuap will fall. Elizabeth knew exactly what to do and was able to guide us and the rest of her family throughout the process.
The Chiskamish family was amazing! Many of them had never built a michuap before but they looked like professionals! All of the Chiskamish women (3 generations present) were incredibly strong and fast builders.
Ben was really good too!
The result: the skeleton of a michuap (still needs a floor of cedar boughs and to be covered with tarps).
View from inside the michuap: