Argus Dowdy, the best living prayer-pipe maker, is passing his skills down to me. For a few weeks now, I've traveled to his home every weekend in Skiatook, Oklahoma, about 3 hours away. He's helping me learn the very old way of carving pipestone, including using a hand drill to bore the hole, and designing the entire thing with hand files (no mechanical tools). He's also showing me how to inlay the stone with silver, as was done in the 1800s (except then they used bullet lead because it was more available). We're going to start carving the stem out of ash this week, and bore the hole with a rod of red-hot metal, inch by painstaking inch. The stem will be decorated with porcupine quill work, and will have slots carved into it that will be used to for tying on Sun Dance ribbons.
Argus makes pipe sculptures for art shows that are purely commercial, and they sell for thousands of dollars. A traditional prayer pipe, however, must never be bought and sold because it is a living thing, and he is going to make mine with me and give it to me. During the entire process, he's sharing a lot of stories and teachings and humor, plus he's welcomed my kids into his home to watch and learn, too. 

The design of the pipe we're making is one I came up with, and every tiny detail has meaning. Some of the designs might only be recognized by very traditional Ojibways. Argus wants me to use this pipe for healing prayers for people who have been harmed in some way (imagine that!), and has asked me to design it purely as a healing/peacemaking tool.

In the Indian way, any person who gives you tobacco and asks for prayer MUST have their request accepted--it is forbidden to deny the request of any person who asks to be prayed with in this way. Working with Argus is an amazing experience, because he is one of the true living legends of ancient pipe lore. In fact, he's the founder of the Pipekeepers group of Indians from many tribes who are working together to protect the sacred pipestone and pipes from misuse by preserving endangered traditions.


Pipe bowl, completed:

Porcupine quills, before dyeing: