Education, Not Just Appropriation: “Tipi Project” Opens in Havemeyer Park

tipiFollowing the recent slew of Native American culture appropriation offenses, this past Thursday, artist Denise Cermanski opened the Tipi Project in Williamsburg’s Havemeyer Park. Based on its name, the project is pretty self-explanatory: a life-size “Sioux-style tipi” is set up in the park as a way to share cultural customs and spread appreciation. In her mission statement, Cermanski explains the project as a way to “foster connection between people, land, creativity and tradition.”

The Tipi Project includes a series of workshops and events based on Native American rituals and practices, such as a Navajo weaving class, full moon ceremony, and, for the sake of hip buskers everywhere, a didgeridoo tutorial. Other seemingly unrelated events like weekly community yoga and a “summertime knitting” class are also on the schedule, further confusing what exactly the project is striving for.

The project has garnered some support from Native American-focused groups, such as the ambassadors of the National Museum of the American Indian and Greenpoint-based center Golden Drum. Otherwise the project is a bit culturally ambiguous, despite, you know, the giant tipi. The tipi seems to be more symbolic, a space that Cermanski explains, “[is] the best of all moveable shelters that contains great wisdom, beauty and practicality. This vision will be carried out alongside deep reverence… for the tradition and sacredness of the tipi.”

The Tipi Project promotes a public understanding of culture in response to the innumerable instances of celebrities and companies appropriating Native American-inspired garb out of ignorance and carelessness (we’re looking at you Pharrell and American Apparel). Cermanski’s location choice of Williamsburg, a neighborhood where many a headdress-donning hipsters roam, is convenient in its proximity to both culturally unaware young adults and other supportive, communal projects like the Open Space Alliance and North Brooklyn Farms.

Cermanski’s project will be in Havemeyer Park until September 1, when she hopes to move the project to another NYC location. There are weekly events scheduled through July, with more to come. Check out the Tipi Project’s website for a full list.

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  1. My impression is that Tipi Project is seeking to explore unexpected connections between: cultural traditions, spiritual practices, and intuitive insights while respecting the cultures and disciplines from which they emerge. The seemingly unrelated events in the park share a common goal which places enlightenment above our preconceived categorical concepts of information—we’re challenged to look for deep connections between them. The logo of the project is an image of a tipi but it was not created to be such an image—it’s actually an image illustrating the intuitive choices which created the English word for ‘CLOUD’ (it was borrowed from a work of contemporary conceptual art). The Native American traditions are not diminished because we see an image created from modern language as a tipi—those traditions are confirmed as being genuinely in touch with the intuitive patterns which flowed through our own cultural ancestors. The Tipi Project is attempting to foster connections on many levels while respecting historical traditions—not an easy thing to do.