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Native American tribe returns to Pipestone National Monument for historic visit

Elders of the Iowa of Oklahoma tribe visited Pipestone National Monument after centuries away.

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Members of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma visited the Pipestone National Monument as part of a historic journey across the region on Sept. 13, 2022.<br/>
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PIPESTONE — The Iowa of Oklahoma returned to Pipestone National Monument this week as part of a historic homecoming journey around the Midwest. Their return to Pipestone marked a visit 500 years in the making, back to a place with great spiritual — and historical — significance.

“After so long,” said organizer Joyce Big Soldier, “it is nice to be able to come back here. It’s been a long time coming.”

This visit to Pipestone comes toward the beginning of an eight-day journey for Iowa tribe elders as they travel to ancestral sites, including Good Earth State Park at Blood Run in South Dakota. Approximately 50 tribe members, mostly elders, have traveled by bus from the area of Perkins, Oklahoma, including Tribe Chairman Perri Ahhaitty.

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Pipestone National Monument park ranger Gabrielle Drapeau greets members of the Iowa of Oklahoma tribe at the visitor center doors.

“For us, it’s very humbling and peaceful to be coming home,” Ahhaitty said. “We’ve gotten to see some of our old village sites. We’re very grateful to the people who are taking care of these areas for us, and for future generations to come.”

The Iowa have long-held connections to the Pipestone area as early keepers of the pipestone quarries. The red stone gathered from these quarries has been used to make pipes used in prayer, which are sacred not just to the Iowa, but to many Native American tribes.

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Prior to 1840, the Iowa — or The People of the Grey Snow, as they called themselves — resided across present-day Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. However, between 1824 and 1838, the Iowa Tribe was forced to cede much of their land to the United States. Though some settled in a strip of land along the border of Nebraska and Kansas, some tribal members left that reserve in 1878 in search of better living conditions, moving to what would become present-day Oklahoma.

“Each place we’ve been to, we’ve had a special time of quietness, just to remember our ancestors,” Big Soldier said. “We are descendants of here. It’s moving and emotional for us to be able to come to these special places.”

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Several tribe members walk around a quarry at the Pipestone National Monument, where the stone for making sacred pipes is still gathered today.

For Big Soldier, this isn’t her first trip to the park in Pipestone, unlike many of the other elders. Her last visit was around five years ago, but to travel with other tribe members across the region has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“This is where our people lived,” she explained, standing near the entrance of a quarry. “Many of (our people) have only heard stories about these places… so it is special, for us, to come here and be able to remember our ancestors. We make our footsteps alongside theirs.”

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A park ranger leads members of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma on a walk around the ground of Pipestone National Monument during their historic visit.

As part of their visit, Big Soldier said that tribe members will take part in a blessing to show their appreciation for the earth and their ancestors who lived here.

The Iowa also presented a flag to Pipestone National Monument for the museum, signifying their connection to the land in Pipestone.

“It shows that the Iowa came from here, this was their land at one time and they resided here,” Big Solider said. “And when we come back, it’s welcoming, because we're also coming home.”

The elders from the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma will end their historic homecoming journey in Kansas, where they will meet with relatives from the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska as part of a celebration.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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