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About The Long Tent

"Camp of tipis" on Umatilla Indian Reservation. Photo is part of the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian - Smithsonian Institution.

Artist and Native American community leader Roger Amerman describes a Long Tent as “a truly stunning and majestic example of Indigenous architecture that is unique to the world and comes from the Inland Northwest/Columbia River Plateau region of North America.” In April 2022, Amerman and his team, in collaboration with Whitman College and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), have built a Long Tent at the center of Whitman campus offering a unique historical structure for educational opportunities and collaborations throughout its nine-day presence on Ankeny Field at the center of Whitman campus.

In 2017, another Long Tent was constructed at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. That project was overseen by Cayuse tribal elder and citizen of the Umatilla Confederated Tribes, Wes Jones. Prior to 2017, the last time this style of Plateau tribal architecture was set up and used in the Walla Walla Basin was in the 1860s, as the last of the Cayuse people were forcibly removed from the area and placed on the Umatilla Reservation. The 2022 Long Tent at Whitman serves as a reminder that the original architecture of this valley was created by the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla people. These structures complement their surroundings and continue to offer sacred spaces for learning and ceremonies. 

This modern long tent community structure is a cotton canvas-covered version of the original Tule Mat Lodge or Longhouse, which is a shelter or house that was constructed using mats made of tule (a type of bullrush or reed) that was abundant along rivers and marshes in the Plateau region of North America and Canada. The reeds were first dried and then woven into mats and used as coverings for pyramid shaped lodges like tepees. Tules were perfect for building temporary, portable structures as the mats could be rolled up and carried away. Tepees were covered with animal skins but the tule-mat lodge was covered with mats of strong, durable, tule reeds. While the Long Tent you see on Whitman campus has a canvas covering, it still carries the original practices of the Tule Mat Lodge engineering.

The Tule Mat Lodge was commonly used as a shelter and home by many of the Plateau Native Indian Tribes who inhabited areas with rivers, streams, wetlands, and marshlands where tules grew in the present-day states of Northeast Oregon, Southeast Washington, Idaho and Montana. The names of the tribes who lived in the different Tule Mat Lodge style houses included the Yakama, Walla Walla, Spokane, Palouse, Nez Perce, Modoc, Klamath, Coeur d'Alene and Cayuse people. 

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