“Pipestone” Lesson From the Stone Keepers

Pipestone Lesson From the Stone Keepers
Also known as Pipestone is the Sacred Stone of the Native People. It is a clay like mineral that is red to red/pink in color. Catlinite, in the very deep red color is symbolic of blood of the Ancestors and the Sacred Buffalo.

Although the words Catlinite and Pipestone are often used interchangeably, there can be a great difference in the two stones. Catlinite, with its dark red color and has an exceptional ability to be carved, is only found in the Minnesota mine. Pipestone found elsewhere in the US and the world has a different composition, is often a pale terracotta color, and cannot be carved like Catlinite.

The primary source of Catlinite is in Minnesota along Pipestone Creek that flows from the Big Sioux River. Currently protected land and under control of the US National Park Service it is known as the “Pipestone National Monument”. Native Americans can apply for a permit to quarry Catlinite there. Catlinite is named for the New York artist George Catlin (1796-1872), who was the first white person to visit the Minnesota quarry from which it was obtained.

Mostly used in carvings and pipe making it is considered a Sacred Stone and one that should be cared for and used with respect.

The Lakota Sacred Pipe, the “Chanunpa”, is an important part of healing ceremonies within the Native culture. When a pipe is crafted, it must be blessed in a special ceremony that connects it to the original Sacred Pipe that was brought to the People by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This is to ensure that a good spirit resides in the pipe.

A pipe is not restricted to being used only by Native Americans, but as a spiritual object symbolizing healing work it must be respected by everyone with its use and proper ceremony. Other types of pipes used in ceremonies were the medicine pipe and the war pipe. Those that carried peace pipes often passed through enemy territory out of respect. A war pipe is different in that it had red feathers symbolizing blood and was smoked before going into battle.

What a was and is still to this day made from will vary from tribe to tribe. The Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes often used river clay that was formed into a bowl shape then “cooked” by putting it over a hot fire for the bowl of a peace pipe.

Bluestone is hard quartzite that is greenish blue. Found in the Appalachian Mountains, it was used for the bowl of a pipe by the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw as well. Eastern, Western, Great Basin and Plains Tribes mostly used red Pipestone (also known as Catlinite) to make their pipes.“

Another form of Catlinite called blue Pipestone is used in some Native American peace pipes. This type of stone can be found in South Dakota. The Plains tribes also use black Pipestone while the Shoshone and Ute sometimes use green Pipestone. The Ute of central Colorado utilize salmon colored alabaster to make their peace pipe bowls.

The Plains Indians often carried pipes in a bag called a pipe bundle. This bundle was decorated on the outside and also was used to carry the tobacco that would be used in the pipe. Considered sacred, tobacco was and still is considered today as a powerful plant. If help is needed from “Spirit” tobacco is offered in return for that guidance. Smoke from the pipe carries our prayers up to the Creator.


*This is the Second in the series of “Lessons from the Stone Keepers”  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy working with them!

“I am Dedicated to Educating and sharing the Native culture with the World. It is not enough merely to teach the ways of our Elders. We must honor those traditions by sharing and educating the World. Inspiring others …Inspiring our Youth. Through the Music… the Arts…the stories…”
Mitakuye O’yasin
~bear Medicinewalker

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Earth Dance by Chris Ferree and Brad Horne available at http://www.chrisferree.com