When Tyendinaga Mohawk artist Amy Keller-Rempp saw the new ceremonial tipi she painted for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo go up, she found herself nervously holding her breath.
“I wanted to embrace that moment and really take it in,” she admits.
“But in my mind, I was thinking, ‘Please line up,’ because I didn’t know for sure.” The tipi was being raised for the first time ever on the eve of June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Though Amy spent 200 hours working on the tipi, from sketching to painting, she had only ever seen it laid out. “Now when I see it, that pressure is gone, so seeing it now at different locations, it’s pretty amazing every time I see it.” The tipi was commissioned by the Municipality’s Indigenous and Rural Relations (IRR) department. The tipi itself was made by local Métis company, TAPWAY Inc. Amy was in the middle of designing the public art benches for the Municipality when she was approached by IRR Director Dennis Fraser to paint the tipi. Amy says she had never painted a tipi before, but confident she could after a lifetime of painting canvas. Her only instruction was to include both the Municipal and It’s Time logos, and that it needed to be completed for the 2022 National Indigenous Peoples Day festivities at Shell Place.
With the canvas being 24 feet top to bottom and 50 feet side to side, Amy had to find a space large enough to spread it out fully. Luckily, friends of Amy’s own an empty building with enough space for her to get to work. In addition to the 200 hours Amy spent painting the tipi, she had help from her husband, daughters and mother and, in all she required 15 gallons of paint. She also credits Creator for helping guide the project.
“We’re doing something really special here, you could feel the energy all the way through. There were many guides helping me through.” As an Indigenous woman and artist, the significance of the project was not lost on her. “It felt sacred to me,” she says. “When you look at the tipi and what it represents to so many people and the culture, it’s an honour for me to paint that. It wasn’t just a project, it was an honour. When I see it, I get emotional.” The Municipal tipi has been used for ceremony and was also present at the Athabasca Tribal Council Culture Festival. “I see the community, how they embrace it and love it, and how they can use it and have it present, it fills my heart.” Amy’s other art can be seen at amykeller.com.