The Pipestone National Monument in 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. This weekend it was also the site of the Annual Pipestone 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 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,” explained Johnston. “We just know from their stories that they share who they are and where they come from. We’ve had people from the First Nations, Lakota, Dakota, Ojibwa, Cheyenne, Cherokee, just about everyone from everywhere.”
Bud Johnston, Rona’s husband, explained that story telling is one of the ways the culture is kept alive and the Pow Wow is a way to bring people together to tell those stories.
“Pipestone is a crossroads,” he said. “Many people come here for the pipestone for their pipes and they barter and trade, and they tell their stories. They’ve found pipestone from here in every corner of the continent and they’ve found other valuable trade items here, like North Carolina flint. This place is a major trade hub.”
Native Americans of all ages danced in bright costumes and people of the audience 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.
“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.”
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.