M999.105.45.1-2 | Pipe

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Southern Plains
Aboriginal: Oceti Sakowin or Iowa
1830-1860, 19th century
Catlinite, lead, ash wood, porcupine quills, hide, horsehair, feathers, sinew, brass studs, cotton ribbons
52.9 x 2.9 x 1.4 cm
Gift of Air Canada
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Pipe (71)
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Keys to History

Aboriginal peoples across much of North America used pipes both to communicate with the supernatural and to mediate relationships among people. Not surprisingly, pipe and tobacco smoking were an integral part of 18th century diplomatic encounters. This pipe dates to the mid-19th century. It has a bowl made of catlinite, a soft red slate that comes from a quarry situated in Pipestone, Minnesota, and poured lead. The flat pipe stem is wrapped in quillwork and ornamented with brass studs, cotton ribbons, dyed horsehair and bird feathers (only small feather remnants remain).

Pipe ceremonies were key mechanisms for alliance building within and between Aboriginal groups, and they became equally essential for diplomacy after the arrival of Europeans. As a result, ritual pipe smoking accompanied political negotiations between Aboriginal peoples and foreign nations from the earliest European trade and treaty agreements.

  • What

    This is a pipe with a catlinite bowl and a wooden stem that has been wrapped in porcupine quills and elaborately decorated with brass studs, cotton ribbons and dyed horsehair. It was used to smoke tobacco.

  • Where

    The source of this pipe is unknown. The style of the pipe bowl and materials used suggest that it may have come from the Plains.

  • When

    This pipe may date to the mid-19th century. Very few Aboriginal objects have survived from the 18th century. Therefore, most of the objects shown here actually date from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In anycase, many elements of protocol - the use of metaphor, wampum, pipes and elaborate garments - remain strong features of Aboriginal diplomacy today.

  • Who

    The use of elaborately decorated pipes was most common in the Plains, however the practice quickly became widespread. Moreover, many Aboriginal groups made and used similar pipes, and both catlinite and complete pipes were traded across vast distances.