The Sacred Pipe

Object of the Month: 05/2000

What is it?:

Ceremonial tobacco pipe

Ceremonial tobacco pipe

For many native peoples of North America, the smoking of tobacco and other herbs is associated with the religious tradition of the pipe ceremony. Whether performed by an individual as a daily routine or as a vital part of a major public event, the pipe ceremony creates a means by which prayers are communicated to the Creator.

The items shown in this image represent those common to the pipe ceremony. The contents of the pipe bag are set out in preparation. Tobacco has been chopped on the cutting board. Sage and braided sweet grass are burned, and an eagle feather is used to fan the smoke over the objects and participants as a means of purification. The pipe bowl and stem are then joined and the ceremony may proceed.

Artifacts from the Louis W. Hill, Sr. Collection of the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The Louis W. Hill, Sr., Collection

"The Hill Collection: The Louis W. Hill, Sr., Collection documents the interaction of Indians and non-Indians during the late period of westward expansion and development of the railroads. The collection offers a unique contribution to scholarship in that the effects of the transition period can be seen in a great range of objects and quality. As a collection, it must be viewed within the framework of its time, purpose, and the distinctive personality of its collector. Its time ranges approximately from 1880 to 1940. Its purpose, aside from the satisfaction realized by its collector, Louis W. Hill, Sr., was to enhance the public relations efforts of the Great Northern Railway Company, of which Hill was twice president and, for many years, chairman of the board. The Great Northern became the major concessionaire for the newly designated Glacier National Park in 1910. The promotion of Glacier Park vacations was accomplished through popularizing the image of the 'Blackfeet Indian Chief' whose native habitat the park was thought to be. Blackfeet Indian objects, as well as other intermingled High Plains Indian art, were used by the railroad in connection with this campaign for more than fifty years, until the railroad stopped transporting passenger traffic. In 1952 the collection was divided, when half of it was given by the Great Northern Railway to the Museum of the Plains Indian at Browning, Montana, as a memorial gift in honor of Louis W. Hill, Sr. *The other half of the collection is owned by the Northwest Area Foundation, successor to the Hill Family Foundation, and is on loan to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul."

- from After The Buffalo Were Gone:
The Louis Warren Hill, Sr., Collection of Indian Art, 1985

*In 1987 the Northwest Area Foundation formally donated this half of the Hill Collection to the Science Museum of Minnesota.