What's a tipi? Nicole Loeffler, the owner of Nomadics Tipi Makers, describes tipi dwellings as a direct connection with nature. Sadie Barac, owner of Little Turtle's Tipi in Montana, says they are a sacred space.



What's The Deal With The Tipi? 

The Definition Of A Tipi Can Be Different Depending On The Person You Ask. If You Ask Sadie Barac, Owner of Little Turtle's Tipi, It's A 'Sacred Space'

Children in field roaming about and tipi camping [Photo Credit: Little Turtle's Tipi]

"It enables a direct connection with nature. In any other dwelling - a house, a cabin, or a camper - you are completely enclosed by a rigid wall," says Nicole Loeffler. Loeffler is the owner of Nomadics Tipi Makers and the dwelling she is speaking of is the tipi, or teepee. "The tipi has just a membrane, not a firm wall, so you can hear the owls and the coyotes howl. Plus the shape is elegant and beautiful."

Nomadics Tipi Makers has been in business since 1970 in Oregon, starting with Loeffler's husband Jeb making tipis for anyone who might want one, as well as for movies like Dances With Wolves. "Jeb came west with ideas of social consciousness in mind," Loeffler says, "he and his identical twin brother wanted to start a school." When he came west, he spent 6 months living in a tipi. He says in a video about the experience, "I had a feeling about something. And I had a sense that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of other people might be searching to connect with this same feeling." He decided to start making tipis, using the book, "The Indian Tipi" by Reginald Laubin, as his guide. "He wanted to use the cottage industry model of manufacturing tipis as a tool to teach kids math, history, geography, social accountability or even spirituality," Loeffler explains.

Turns out the business took off and that decided his occupation from then on. He says, "It was suggested at the time that we would make 1 or 200 tipis and that would be end of it...and we have made over 25,000 tipis." The company continues to make tipis in their workshop in the woods of Bend, Oregon, and will continue to do so until people stop asking for them, as Loeffler told The Buzz.

Tipi decorated with horse painting on a mound [Photo Credit: Nomadics Tipi Makers]
Jeb Loeffler camping with two of his tipis made by Nomadics Tipi Makers [Photo Credit: Nomadics Tipi Makers]

So why tipis? What makes them special? Sadie Barac, owner of Little Turtle's Tipi in Montana, says, "They are a sacred space. A place where people gather and be safe." Barac makes smaller versions of traditional tipis for children. Her company started 7 years ago and started with an interest in Native American culture. "I spent time and met my husband on a reservation," she recalls, "and we got married in a tipi." The tipi got torn up by a windstorm and they donated some of the scraps to a sweat lodge. A friend of theirs ended up making a smaller tipi out of some of the wedding tipi and gifted it to their son, whose nickname is ‘little turtle’. "We put it in our living room and the kids started playing in it and then it kind of called to me," Barac recalls. Barac said she never did any sewing before that and she just slowly learned. Since then, she notices the various ways having a tipi helps children, both at home and at school. “Classrooms that set up a tipi in the classroom find they have a safe place for children to go and regroup,” Barac says, “It seems to help a lot.”

In talking with both tipi makers, the desire to pass on and teach Native American culture is strong. “We are a country of immigrants,” explains Loeffler, “but we all live on this land now." This land belonged to the Native Americans and tipis are a good way to connect back to their heritage. Barac echoes the statement and brings in the symbol of the circle, as well as calling attention to what is currently going on in the reservations today. “It’s a way to remind people of these cultures that exist and help us,” Barac says.

Beyond the goal of providing an education in Native American history, the idea of getting back to nature and connecting with it is something that a tipi provides. “We are getting more and more away from each other with technology,” Loeffler explains, “But there is a desire to be a part of something. And when you establish a connection with nature, you are never excluded, you are never alone. You are always part of nature. Tipis are a beautiful way to establish this.”

Group of kids barbecue inside a 26 ft. wide tipi tent [Photo Credit: Nomadics Tipi Makers]
Decorating the tipi's outer shell [Photo Credit: Nomadics Tipi Makers]
 Sadie Barac, owner of Little Turtle's Tipi, makes smaller versions of traditional tipis for children [Photo Credit: Little Turtle's Tipi]

The tipis that Nomadic Tipi Makers make are big - ranging in size from 8’ to 26’. They are used as places to hangout on people's land or their backyards, rentals in campgrounds, as well as by some to live in. Tipis are naturally cool in the summer and can warm up cozily in the winter time. “I can set up a 16’ tipi by myself, but any bigger than that I would need some help,” Loeffler says. They are made out of 100% organic cotton canvas and the company specializes in beautiful paintings to adorn the tipis.

Little Turtle’s Tipis make tipis ranging from pet size (yes, for a pet!) to “meditation” size - about 6’ - that can fit adults and children. They are designed to be used indoors and outdoors as a place to play, meditate, and regroup.

Tipis can be used for a variety of things. They can be permanent with elaborate furnishings for glamping purposes or portable and have nothing but a sleeping bag and a fire pit in the middle. No matter what, though, they are a place to reflect, to be a part of something greater than oneself - Nature.

Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.  

Nomadics Tipi Makers

Make Sure To Check Out:

Nomadics Tipi Makers, who has manufactured hand-crafted, authentic Sioux style tipis since 1970. They use 100% non-GMO, organic cotton for their tipis, hand paint each tipi individually and actively support the Native American Culture and the Standing Rock Movement.

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