Debates Among Native People

Joined Chanupa

An enormous sculpture of a joined Chanupa sits in front of the Keepers of The Sacred Tradition of Pipermakers. Some Dakota members find this sculputre of a joined pipe offensive

An enormous sculpture of a joined chanupa sits in front of the Keepers of The Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers in Pipestone, MN. Their website describes them as an American Indian non-profit dedicated to educating the public about Native American sacred pipe traditions and selling crafts made by Native artists.1

In 1996 the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers was formed by a group of quarrying artists dedicated to a liberal reading of pipestone tradition, one of inclusiveness. The founding Vice-President was Travis Erikson, and he is still an active member as of 2016. The organization offers pipes for sale to anyone, provided that their “heart is into it”, and offer membership to anyone interested in pipestone in accordance with the organization’s purpose. Native artists from around the country have joined the group. Some Dakota community members find their huge sculpture of a joined pipe offensive.

The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers offers pipes for sale to anyone, provided that their 'heart is into it', and membership to anyone interested in pipestone in accordance with the organization’s purpose.

Little Feather Indian Center is a Dakota community center started by the late Chuck Derby (1941-2010), a Sisseton Dakota maintenance worker at Pipestone National Park. Derby was also a lifelong quarrier and Pipestone craftsman and considered by many in the town as a leader in the Pipestone Dakota community. In contrast to the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers, The Little Feather Indian Center serves the local Dakota community in Pipestone as opposed to a broader national demographic.

There is a long-standing conflict between the artists who often sell or use chanupa as decoration, such as the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers, and the local Dakota people affiliated with The Little Feather Indian Center. Tellingly, contemporary divisions among Native people over the management of Pipestone fall along the tribal dispute over Pipestone in the 1850s discussed in the "Political History" section. Maintaining an “artistic license traditional” stance, the Dakota community in Pipestone is largely Sisseton and supports the unrestricted sale of pipestone objects by Native artists. The Yankton are among the most vocally opposed to such sales, and hold an “orthodox traditional” position. While the Pipemakers believe in their personal rights to carve and sell pipes as they see fit, some local Dakota representatives believe that the sale of pipes diminishes the religious uses of the chanupa.

The Little Feather website accuses the Keepers of The Sacred Tradition of Pipestone of constructing the “monstrosity [chanupa sculpture]… which many people, including 95% of the original Pipestone Dakota community feel is disrespectful to the pipe.” Little Feather Indian Center maintains that the statue of a joined chanupa in front of the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers is an offensive commercial representation of the sacred pipe. They believe, along with other groups of Native Americans, that the Sacred Pipe is awakened when the stem and bowl are joined together. The Pipe, for them, should only be joined for prayer. For this reason, Sacred Pipes in the National Parks’ interpretive center and the Pipestone County Historical society museum are displayed with the stem and bowl separated. At the museum in Little Feather Indian Center, bowl and stem are separated and stuffed with sage, a purifying herb.

As Ray Derby, who helps run the Little Feather Center, said:

"I know we have displays [of pipes] here on our walls [at the Little Feather Center], but that’s why we have sage in them. None of the bowls are connected to the stems. If you go back and look, none of pipes have been awakened. As long as they haven’t been awakened in ceremony, I don’t see anything wrong with this." 

  1. http://www.pipekeepers.org/

                                                          Street view of the Little Feather Center.