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Don Waters Shares Experiences of Becoming A Pipe Carrier with Ray Historical Society 

You can learn about the Oglala Lakota Sioux and thei

customs and rituals by going on the World Wide Web or 

even to your local library and read about them. 

Or you can go to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation t 

near Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, and spend 18 

years immersing yourself in their culture. 

The World Wide Web route is the easiest way to go, but

being adopted, as a member of the Lakota is far more 

interesting and life-changing. 

Don Waters of Orrick spoke about the direction his life

took after he decided it would be neat to carve a stone pipe

after seeing the pipe ceremony depicted in the movie 

“Dances with Wolves.” 

It intrigued him. 

“It’s been 18 years of pure unbelievable. It’s not readin

a history book. You got there and you see this, and it’s 


Few people know how to carve a pipe from stone, but 

these sacred pipes are vital to the religion and worship of 

native Americans. Without the pipes, the native Americans

would have no way to pray. They are not “peace pipes.” 

Mastering the skill opened doors to another world. 

Waters spoke to the Ray County Historical Society 

during their quarterly meeting last week. He explained how

the pipe carving is all done by hand with files, sandpaper 

and scraping, so as not to disturb the “spirit of the stone.” 

He will invest 180 to 200 hours in making a pipe. 

The pipestone comes from Pipe Stone, Minnesota, 

where it has been quarried for a thousand years. 

“Sitting Bulls pipe was made from this stone, Crazy 

Horse’s pipe was made from this stone. It is known state- 

wide by the native Americans. It is very sacred.” 

You have to dig through 50 feet of solid quartzite to 

reach the layer of pipestone and it has to be quarried by 


The pipe stone he carves is Katlanite and it is quarried

from Pit #19. It is a reddish brick-colored stone. The red 

stone “carries the blood of the ancestors or the grandfathers.” 

The Ojibwe, a northern tribe, carves their pipes from 

Steotite, a white colored stone. 

The pipe stems are carved from sumac or bloodwood and 

some stems have been known to be five 

feet long so it takes two people to work 


Sumac has a very soft pith that can 

be hollowed out with a wire. 

Bloodwood is a very hard word and 

when Don made a stem out of it, he 

split it down the middle, cut a v-groove 

down the center, and glued the two 

pieces back together. 

He said that was the way it was 

originally done, as native Americans 

used glue made out of buffalo. 

He has made pipes for the Otoe 

Missouria, Ojibwe, Cherokee, Lakota 

Sioux, Blackfoot, Shashone, and even 

for the Maoris in New Zealand. 

 “Working with each other is the 

whole deal of it (a pipe ceremony) so 

issues can be worked out within the 

tribe or with other nations.” 

He also explained that the pipes are 

used to smoke tobacco, as that would 

gum them up. Tobacco was for their 

personal pipes. 

They smoke a mixture (kinukkinuk)

of little bearberry root, Echinacea root, 

and lots of red willow bark (one of the 

main ingredients in aspirin), 

White Buffalo Calf Woman made 

the very first pipe and brought it to the 

native Americans. 

He was adopted last year by the 

Ogalala Sioux tribe after he finished his 

four -year commitment as a Sundancer. 

“The Sun Dance is one of the most 

amazing things I have seen in my life,” 

he said. “If I live to be a hundred, I will 

never see anything like that again. It 

just goes right through you. 

“It is the most sacred dance there 

is,” he said. 

The Sun Dance is a religious 

ceremony and the ceremony he partici- 

pated in lasted nine days. During the 

first four days, the participants went out 

and cut down a cottonwood tree in such 

a manner that the tree never fell to the 

ground. Using ropes, it was lowered to 

be carried on the shoulder of the 10–20 

dancers so it never touches the ground. 

“The cottonwood is a sacred tree to 

them,” he said. 

Tee-pees were supposedly built in

the same way that children took the 

cotton falling from the cottonwood 

trees and fashioned them into little 


“Tee-pees are nice in the winter, 

actually, because it doesn’t take very 

much to heat them up.” 

While the ceremony varies, it 

includes the smoking of the pipe, 

dancing, singing, drumming, visions, 

fasting, and piercing of the skin on the

chest or back as a personal sacrifice. 

He said when he saw his first 

ceremony, which included piercing, he

was so “bewildered, baffled, and 

stunned,” that he volunteered for the 

four-year commitment as a Sundancer

and endured a chest piercing, similar t

the one depicted in the movie, “A Man

Called Horse.” 

“I was so proud to be allowed into

this circle of people,” he said. “They 

are very good people. They take care o

their own . The children take care of th

parents and they have great respect for

their parents and their grandparents.” 

A Purification ritual precedes the 

ceremony and after the participant is 

purified; they cannot touch or be 

touched by another person until the 

ceremony is complete. 

He danced for three days … 

Sunrise to Sunset … in the sun with no

food or drink. 

“Supporters will eat or drink for 


He displayed the Sun Dance crow

the anklets and the bracelets made of 

sage that he wore during the ceremony.

The Sun Dance crown shaded his 

head from the prairie sun. The anklets

and the bracelets were so he never 

touched anyone and no one touched 


He had a whistle made from the 

shoulder bone of an eagle, which 

produces a two-tone sound. The dance

keeps the whistle in his mouth all day

and blows it with each step he takes. 

After the three days of dancing, 

Don was taken into a tee-pee and 

circles are drawn around the area where 

the piercings would go. He returned to 

the ceremonial area and was laid down 

on a buffalo hide. Wooden staves 

pierced his skin and a harness was 

hooded to the staves. The other end of 

the harness was tied to a 50 foot rope 

that was tied to a tree. 

Then, he had to keep backing up 

until the staves are pulled out. 

“If you can’t pull them out, your 

brothers will take you by the arms and 

they will assist you, somewhat.” 

He described the ceremony as 

“tithing in a big way.” 

“I’ve seen a lot of things happen 

that people won’t believe, but it does 


“It’s an experience I will never 


He noted that the Sun Dance is the 

most spiritual of the Lakota’s seven 

major ceremonies. 

After the Sun Dance, he received 

his Lakota name – “Keeper of the 

Sage” or “Keeper of the Silver Medi- 

cine” and he is a pipe carrier for the 

tribe – a position of great responsibility. 

“Not many people will carry the 

pipe, because they don’t want the 


Pipe Carriers carry a pipe on behalf 

of the people. If there is need, the Pipe 

Carrier may be called to a home for 

healing, teaching or praying. 

The gentleman who adopted Waters 

was a medicine man and is teaching 

him some of the ways. 

“It’s taken me a number of years to 

learn this stuff, to be taken into their 

homes and treated as a brother. It’s 

totally awesome.”