Nothing can prepare you for an epic tale involving wars, US soldiers and Native Americans quite like this one. It turns out that an ancient historical artifact has resurfaced at an auction, and it’s known as the sacred peace pipe. But this is no ordinary pipe. It has a story to tell that dates back over a century and it has been through a lot, and now, an anonymous bidder can finally tell everyone where the pipe will end up now.
Let’s go back to a time where US soldiers and Native Americans battled over territory, which often led to an all-out war. White Dog, a Native American Sioux Chief, was held captive by soldiers, and since he had some time on his hands, the Chief started to carve and sculpt a beautiful artifact. This artifact managed to survive from that prison back in 1862 all the way to 2018, where it would be seen again at an auction house in Boston.
White Dog belonged to the Mdewakanton tribe, who had lived in harmony until the American settlers moved in and pushed them off their land. Tribal members didn’t see themselves as war-like. “We are a peaceful people and very resilient, we bounce back from anything.” But sadly, the six-week war of 1862 resulted in a great deal of destruction and hardship. But one artifact had managed to survive despite everything that had happened.
The artifact was called the Catlinite peace pipe and was gifted by White Dog to his captor, Lieutenant King. It was a peaceful gesture and the pipe was beautiful with a combination of lead carvings of arrows, animals, and birds. But the coolest feature is the large thunderbird. Since the pipe is considered a sacred object, it was a generous gesture on behalf of the Chief who had grown weary of the conflict. But unfortunately, it didn’t work.
The peace offering didn’t satiate the US Army. In fact, on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men, including White Dog, had a noose tied around their necks shortly after the armies managed to defeat the Dakota warriors. The act was one of the biggest executions in the history of the United States. The remaining tribal members were placed in concentration camps, and their relics were seemingly abandoned and lost… but one survived.
The Catlinite peace pipe had remained a part of an American family since the 1880s. But the artifact, which had been used as a peace offering, was now being auctioned in Boston. It was estimated that the pipe would be sold for $15,000 to $20,000. But as it turns out, it sold for $39,975, which was double the price. An anonymous bidder won the auction and this individual had a perfect idea for what they were going to do with the pipe.
Before the item was even auctioned, several members of the Minnesota Tribe had tried to prevent the pipe from being sold. You see, possession of cultural artifacts by collectors and museums has been a touchy subject. This is mainly because many of these artifacts were taken without permission or without the proper compensation. But the peace pipe was successfully auctioned, and the anonymous bidder knew just what to do with it.
The Minnesota Tribe was unable to block the sale of the sacred artifact, and so Skinner Auctioneers had been able to sell the item to the highest bidder. But the last thing they had expected was to sell it for nearly $40,000 when all they planned to get for it was $15,000. Once the pipe was in the bidder’s hand, they revealed that their plans were not what you would expect.
Auctioneers kept on asking the bidder what they planned on doing with the pipe and they finally told them. Given the historic significance of the relic, the bidder wanted to give it the respect it deserved. They believed that the pipe was in a class of its own and needed to be looked after carefully, and that’s exactly what the bidder intended to do.
Since the peace pipe was a symbol of peace, the bidder decided that returning it to the original tribe was the best thing to do. “We are humbled and grateful for this honorable act,” said Shelley Buck, the Tribal Council President of the Prairie Island Indian Community in Red Wing. She also added, “Pidamayaye (thank you) to the donor for your respect and generosity.” But there was more that Buck wanted to say.
Buck stated that the pipe would be welcomed by the Prairie Island Tribal Preservation Office and their spiritual leaders “through ceremony and community.” Then, Jill Doerfler, the Head of the American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, added that the pipe’s fate was fitting because the tribe saw the artifact as having a life of its own.
The peace pipe symbolized what the Dakota tribe had undergone in the 1880s. Given that the tribe valued honor and respect above all else, they were beyond happy to have the peace pipe back where it belonged. Now they’ll be able to use it for their spiritual practices in a way that honors their ancestors.
The tribe had been annexed from their homeland during the US/Dakota war and later given false hope that the US government would provide them with subsidies. But these promises were empty, which left the tribe in a state of virtual poverty. Fortunately, it’s nice to see that this tribe, which has endured so much, has finally gotten something in return.
The family of those who had imprisoned the tribe had finally given up the relic, and it’s shocking to see just how this peace pipe has managed to survive unscathed for over 150 years before finally being returned to the people who made it.
Although there are only a few Native American tribes who have survived to the present day, most Native Americans would agree that without roots, a tree cannot survive. And in some ways, the peace pipe symbolized the roots of the Dakota tribe’s tree. The relic will provide a cultural memory that will teach generations where they came from and where they will go.