Pipestone National Monument to stop sale of pipes on park grounds

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An artisan carves a pipe at Pipestone National Monument
An artisan carves a pipe at Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota.
National Park Service

Beginning later this year, pipes will no longer be sold at Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota.

The move is the culmination of decades of contention and several years of more-formal talks about whether to continue selling pipes made from the quarries at Pipestone — spiritual objects carved from what many Native American tribes consider sacred ground.

Faith Spotted Eagle is chairperson of the Ihanktonwan Treaty Steering Committee and a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. She called pipestone “the blood of our people,” and said the decision to stop selling pipes at the monument is “a generational decision” that was the answer to decades of prayer.

Formal government-to-government discussions among the National Park Service and Native American tribes started in 2013. It’s a complex issue; selling the pipes carved from pipestone supports Native American craftspeople, but others argue that the sacred pipestone should not be sold.

Quartzite cliffs
Quartzite cliffs stand along the Circle Trail in Pipestone National Monument on Aug. 24, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Referring to past efforts to eliminate Native American language and culture — including government actions that took away control of the pipestone quarries — Spotted Eagle said “the paradox is that a place like that which deleted our presence there in the 1892 agreement began to sell pipes. … It was so hypocritical to us and so hard to fathom, with our grieving of the loss of that sacred place.”

She called the decision to end pipe sales on park grounds “a day of celebration that we have someone from the Park Service that can understand that we have a right to grieve what was lost and that we have been heard, that we don't want our sacred items to be sold.”

Under the new policy, pipestone carving will continue as part of the national monument’s cultural demonstration program, giving Native American craftspeople a chance to share their work and history with visitors. The store at the park, operated by the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, will offer small pipestone crafts with background information on their significance.

The store operators will open a second location in downtown Pipestone, off park grounds and away from the quarries, where pipes carved from pipestone may continue to be sold.

“Ultimately we came to understand that the decision to carry a pipe is a deeply personal, cultural, spiritual responsibility — and that the National Park Service doesn’t have a role in that,” said Lauren Blacik, superintendent of the Pipestone National Monument.

“It’s a complex issue because there are so many different perspectives involved. It was by no means a clear-cut answer,” Blacik said.

Mink in the quarry
A mink slinks across a pile of stone removed from the bottom of a quarry in search of food inside Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minn. on Aug. 24, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

She said one of the most important roles of park officials in the process was simply to listen. Monument staff regularly consult with 23 federally recognized tribes on a number of different topics.

“Consulting with tribal nations is a very important part of our management processes, and especially at a place like Pipestone National Monument, where we protect a site that is sacred to so many people and has been for thousands of years,” Blacik said. “It’s very important that tribes have a significant voice in those management decisions.”

The new policy was reached by consensus; not everyone was fully satisfied. Spotted Eagle said she’d like to see the sale of all pipestone objects — not just pipes — to end at the monument.

But she said the decision still represents a victory for generations of Native Americans who have had concerns about how the site is managed.

“We are thankful to all the people that have passed on that didn’t get to witness this,” she said. “But I'm sure they know it in the spirit world, so it is a celebration for them.”

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