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Introduction to Pipestone
Authored by Ben Welna with contributions from Johanna Scheu, Will Yetvin and Laura Levitt
Among the most sacred Native American places in Minnesota are the Pipestone quarries in the southwestern corner of the state. The quarries are distinct geologic features of southwestern Minnesota. Out of the prairies in that part of the state rise pink quartzite bluffs, beneath which run seams of soft, dull-red pipestone rock. In the Dakota language, the compound is called cannononpa in’yan. To geologists, the rock is called Catlinite, named after George Catlin, the Euro-American painter who visited and documented the quarries in 1863.1 For many American Indians, the quarries are a sacred space; Native American people have been carving stone pipe bowls since 1,500 B.C.E. and archeological evidence shows that Native people have quarried pipestone for 3,000 years.2
The place was important enough to the Native Americans of the region that the Yankton Sioux took pains to secure continued access to the quarries in the 1858 Treaty of Washington through which they ceded the territory in the region to the U.S. In 1937, the quarries became Pipestone National Monument. The ongoing sacred nature of the place to the Dakota and the charged history of place in the non-Native imaginations, have made a complex tangle of competing claims on federal managers of the site for years.
Sally Southwick, Building on a Borrowed Past: Place and Identity in Pipestone, Minnesota, (Ohio University Press, 2005): 66. ↩
National Park Service, "Pipestone: History and Culture: People," National Park Service, accessed July 29, 2015, http://www.nps.gov/pipe/learn/historyculture/people.htm. ↩