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Artist Paints Tipi For National Museum Of American Indian

Artist Steve Tamayo, a Native American of the Sicangu tribe, painted life into a tipi on the National Mall over three days. The tipi will be given to the National Museum of the American Indian in a ceremony on Saturday, April 26th. Tamayo described the tipi as an embodiment of Native American culture.

The tipi art depicts the Earth and heavens with images symbolizing the cycle of life. Simple icons of water, land, animals, and sky narrate the lives of Native Americans on the prairie. Through bright colors and traditional shapes, the complex is made simple and the mundane, significant.

As many as fifty volunteers, including children as young as five, helped Tamayo paint the images he designed and laid out.

At the top of the tipi is a depiction of the heavens, the sun and stars. The Big Dipper is the provider of water to the Earth. At the base are the oceans, lakes and rivers, where blue water begins the cycle of life.

Above the water is green land upon which a giant turtle faces towards the heavens. The turtle represents woman, the backbone and support of the family. It stands on a mountain climbing towards the sky and has thirteen scales, representing the lunar cycles.


Twenty-eight galloping horses tell the story of tribal life, fourteen run to the East and West. Each horse has markings representing its status in society. An upside-down red hand symbolizes an warrior wounded in battle while a black hand means an adversary who was killed. Other symbols on the horses represent societal attributes or roles. Lightning is power and speed, and a circle around the eye means keen vision. A pipe is the leader of the hunt, and a square is the leader of a raid. Humans aren’t depicted except for hand prints.


One horse is painted purple, which signifies domestic violence. Tamayo says that it is very important to recognize violence as a problem in society in order to undo its damage to family and tribe. He serves as a counselor at a youth center.

In Saturday morning’s ceremony, tribal leaders will sign the tipi with paint and thumb prints, then tribe members will do the same, before giving it to the museum. The tribal names given to President Obama will be added. It is being offered as part of their effort to draw attention to the threat that the Keystone XL pipeline poses to people, land, water and planet.

Tipi_Painting-12Symbol/Color and Meaning
Sun/Yellow – Energy
Land/Green – Life domain
Night/Black – Mystery
Water/Blue – Sustenance
Horses/All – Society
Turtle/Green and Black – Family backbone
Cedar/Green – Plant Life
Pipe – Leader of Hunt
Circle around Eye -Keen vision
Square – Leader of raid
Lightning – Power and Speed
Hand Down -Warrior
Hand Up -Adversary
Hand/Black – Death
Hand/Red – Wounded

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