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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Dominance of the Pipe



Variety of 'Sacred' Moments

Dominance of
the Pipe

Meanings of
Sacred Pipe

Western Use of Language


Other Ways
of Speaking
and Knowing


Visual representation of nature's laws

Of all the ritual instruments used among Indigenous practitioners, the sacred Pipe remains foremost. The sacred Pipe thus stands as the supreme indicator of the ritual life of Indigenous peoples here. It is the absolute guarantor, equal in position to the use of the Bible in Canadian legal testimony. Yet ritual artifacts may not indicate how powerful Ritual Law applies in any given case, nor how powerful the ritual instrument. Paper, in his Offering Smoke on the Pipe in pan-Indian rituals, tried to study the role that collected and museum artifact pipes played in the past, based on criteria he could establish from various sources, and the written explanations that went with them. His work was largely frustrating. He summarized these criteria into four, the last of which is important to us. Clearly the limitations of his study are instructive:

Fourth, the ritual use. This is the most difficult criterion of all and yet the most important. In some cases the determination is clear; for example, where the pipe is in sacred bundles or definitely associated with other ritual objects, or where there is precise ethnographic data about ritual use. In all other cases, the determination must be made by inference. One means is to note significant symbolic decoration; for example, a red ochre coating, the trachea or lifeline design, or suspended human scalps or an appropriate number of eagle feathers. These aspects of the artifact, combined with other data, may lead to varying probabilities of the ritual use of the artifact. Association with historic events, such as councils or adoption rituals, may also be of significance.

Of the thousands of pipes studied, exceedingly few met all four criteria. Examples were selected by their value to the study even with limited data. For example, when only one pipe was available for a particular culture, it was included in the study if at least one of the four items of data was known. However, since the focus was on ritual, ritual use was normally the determining factor for inclusion in the database. Fewer than two percent of the pipes studied met this criterion. In total, including pipes known through illustrations, ritual use could be listed as definite or almost definite for 103 pipes and probable for another 54. It is to be understood that many more were undoubtedly used ritually, but there were no specific indicators. On the other hand, the majority of pipes in the collections, especially those with a large number of more recently acquired pipes, were manufactured at Pipestone, Minnesota for the tourist trade. (p.117)

From the rigorous perspective of the specialist, then, the ritual role and validation of the Indigenous pipes in North America is far from being clear. This suggests that, without the ritual context of these pipes, Canadians have no way of knowing their real use, their perceived power, or their place in Indigenous consciousness. This suggests that the Canadian public's awareness of the role and position of one such crucial element of Indigenous spirituality, and certainly one of the centerpieces of Nature's Laws from the Indigenous perspective cannot rely upon current knowledge.

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