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
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
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
“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
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