(A photo slideshow with audio interviews with organizers of the Pow Wow, from Jeremy Griffith of American Millennium Online.)
Pipestone Minnesota is sacred ground for all Native American Peoples because it is one of the few places in North America where malleable pipestone is found. The weekend of July 28-29, it was also the site of an annual Pow Wow, organized by the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers.
Pow Wow organizer Rona Johnston says the Pow Wow has been going on at this site for 14 years, but the tradition itself goes on for centuries. She’s not sure how many different tribes participate every year, but says they come from all over the North American, including Canada.
“We don’t really ask people what their tribal affiliation is when they come to the Pow,” explained Johnston. “I’m sure we’ve had tribes from many, many nations; Cherokee, Ojibwe, Chalktaw, Sakenfox, Patawaname, First Nations, Lakota, Dakota. . . ”
“The Pow is a great way to get people together to expose them to the culture,” Rona said. “People come here to see what the art is like, the dance, the different types of beadwork, things like that. Traditions that have been carried on probably for thousands of years.”
Bud Johnston, Rona’s husband, is knowledgeable about the history of Native American Peoples. He explained how pipestone quarried here was valuable as a trade item.
“This was one of the biggest trade items in North America,” he said. “We’ve found pipestone from here all over these two continents, North America and South America. All of our stuff that was a prized item was traded. They found South Carolina flint on my reservation. So these two items traveled all over this continent. That’s how important this stone was.”
Native Americans of all ages danced at the Pow Wow in brightly colored traditional costumes. Spectators who came to watch the Pow were invited to dance along and participate. Veterans were asked to place flags from every military service of the United States and ringed the circle where the dances took place. An elder blessed the field before the dance to purify it.
It wasn’t all seriousness and tradition. The atmosphere was celebratory and fun. Audience members took time to dance with the dancers, including a traditional “potato dance” where partners balanced a potato between their foreheads. The last couple to retain their potato without dropping it won a prize.
Pow Wow’s and native dances are not the only ways to preserve tradition. At the Pipestone National Monument, Park Rangers and cultural interpreters work to share Native American history and Culture. The monument’s 75th Anniversary is coming up August 25th.
Pam Tellinghuisen is a pipestone carver and cultural demonstrator at the monument. She teaches pipestone carving and gives demonstrations to curious tourists who visit the site.
“I teach the art of pipestone carving,” she said. “I learned it from my mom, my mom learned it from her mom, so I’m actually a fourth generation pipestone carver. For me it’s a family tradition.”
Pipestone is used in sacred items used in ceremonies, especially the traditional pipestone pipe with it’s distinctive reddish brown stone. Only certified Native Americans can quarry the stone after they’ve submitted the proper permits, Tellinghuisen said. Right now there is a five-year waiting list to get a quarry, and those who are successful in getting a quarry are required to quarry at least twice a year.
While no non-native can quarry the rock, items made from the stone are available for sale at the bookstore, as well as books, music and other items. The Monument’s Interpretive Center has a bookshop, a museum and a theater, and visitors can walk around the grounds on designated paths to see the pipestone quarries for themselves.
Sadly, not all of the traditions begun here have continued. In 2007, the committee that puts on the beloved Song of Hiawatha Pageant, shut its doors for the last time. The popular outdoor play based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem began showing at that location in 1948. Longfellow wrote the poem in 1855. Committee members said they shuttered the play finally due to diminishing crowds.