baxoje, the ioway nation, resources on the ioway or iowa indian tribe

Ioway Cultural Institute : The Ioway Virtual Library

Sacred Bundles of the Ioway Indians,
By Lance Michael Foster
( 1994-2001, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter 1: Introduction


The study of sacred bundles

She stared at him, dismayed. "Doctor Van Vliet, have you no respect for the dead?"

"Not a bit. She's an aborigine. A Lakota."

"I should care very much if those were my bones," she said, but he didn't seem to hear her. He'd discovered the woman's sewing kit and a little doeskin doll, a hide scraper with red and black dots incised into its handle, and her wotawes, amulets and fetishes, and danced about, holding them up to the sun.

"I would indeed," she said. "I think they would too. She's someone's mother you know. She laughed and cried once; brought children into the world. Sewed clothes for them with those awls you're holding."

"Ah, how right you are. But science can't afford sentiment."

"My feelings exactly, Doctor Van Vliet. I think you'll add nothing to ethnology if you have no sense of the mortal whose tools you hold" (Wheeler 1992: 43-44).


It is with ambivalence that I present this study on the sacred bundles of the Ioway. Although I am an enrolled tribal member of the Kansas-Nebraska branch, and the bundle belief system among the Ioway is no longer active, several people expressed their belief that such a study, and especially the handling and the description of the sacred bundles was a spiritually unwise and even dangerous thing to do. I cannot disagree with this. And so one might ask why, then, did I do it?

As the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has become a major issue to American Indians, the U.S. Government, and anthropologists, the repatriation of the dead to their homes as well as the return of sacred artifacts is something that has to be faced by every tribe. There are mixed feelings, as one who is brought up in their culture knows that it is not simply a matter of returning"things."

These "things" once had a proper cultural context, with songs and rites to be given, social forms to be observed, Keepers to be chosen, cautions to be undertaken. These returned "things" are not simply "things." They are material manifestations of a vibrant, interconnected cultural system as well as a difficult, painful, and sometimes clouded past. Considered to have a kind of life, these "things" are, in the native view, like "Old People" returning to a home unrecognizable to them and sometimes to descendants who do not know them and their ways.

I have thought about these manifestations of the past for over ten years now. Every step I have taken has led me to this place, even when I tried to go in a different direction. I always prayed that only if it was good should I continue in this manner. And so I find myself in this place. I still have much to learn. I have been given no authority to do what I have done. Sometimes, if no one else will do what needs to be done, it will go on to someone who will.

I simply offer here what I have found out about these "Old People," the sacred bundles of the Ioway. It is an ongoing process of knowledge and experience. In getting an academic degree, one must write down what has been learned and put it in a form called a thesis, a requirement to receive a diploma and go on in one's quest to learn more. I offer here my experience and knowledge of what I have found so far. I offer it here to those descendants of the Ioway who seek to understand the past.


Statement of Purpose

The objective of this study is to begin to describe the sacred bundle system of the Ioway (also called Iowa) Indians, through historic context and examination of bundles in some museums. The work is primarily descriptive, ethnographic, and interpretive, as a basis for providing an "emic" perspective, which has been essentially lacking in earlier analyses. Ultimately, legitimate theoretical workers depend on descriptive work as the material for their arguments and as a data base for their explorations and proofs.

Jeffrey Hanson (1980) attempted to include Ioway bundles in his survey, but the available data base was inadequate. It turned out that 40% of the component categories set up by Hanson actually present in Ioway bundles were not counted, and 88% of the associated activities similarly missed. A further problem with the Ioway material is that he does not use the proper typological divisions for the bundles, as Ioway pipes are always a distinct class to themselves in the Ioway bundle system and are not considered a type of war bundle at all. The Ioway are described by Hanson as having year-round unity. Historical and ethnographic sources indicate a pattern of tribal segmentation along lineage and personal divisions for hunting and seasonal activities, or in times of tribal crisis, such as war, or treaty or alliance disputes. This is not intended to dispute Hanson's ideas as much as it is intended to show the danger of formulating comparative studies based on inadequate descriptive studies.

The purpose of this study is to gather together data on the bundle system of the Ioway Indians of the midwestern United States, which has never been done.

The purposes for this are many. The anthropological study of material culture, for decades neglected in favor of social anthropological studies, has gained momentum since the 1970s. The resurgence of interest in material culture has come about for a number of political, economic, and social reasons. A decline in tribal cultures (the traditional realm of the anthropologist) as well as fieldwork funding opportunities, and the needs and demands of various social contexts has forced anthropology to re-examine its mission. An increasing interest in and shift to interdisciplinary studies (with the interaction of such disparate fields as archaeology, art history, history, historic preservation, philosophy, and literature studies) has resulted in the re-examination of paradigms and theoretical orientations, as well as a re-examination of old data.

Finally, the increasing vocality of "the other," the tribal and "third world" peoples who have traditionally been the object of anthropological study, and whose "material life" make up the bulk of museum collections has resulted in the issue of reasserting cultural integrity through the repatriation of many items in museum collections (as well as skeletal remains), as seen with the passage of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Many of these things are the last physical link between a people and their history, their mothers and fathers, their life's blood.

As most of the contextual descriptions of Ioway bundles are either unpublished or in older, hard-to-obtain sources, I felt it was important to compile as much of this material in one place as I could, and to use extensive quotes. At the risk of being unwieldy, it is my contention that the Ioway need to have full access to this information on their past. It may be the only time this is done. Extensive contextual quotes are also valuable in the evolving scholarly study of material culture. I agree with Hudson and Blackburn when they state:

Our own feeling is that an arrangement that emphasizes the context in which an item was employed and the specific function for which it was used has the greatest potential for meaningfully contributing to the resolution of either emic or etic questions, and is also the most likely to advance our understanding of the interrelationships between the material subsystem and other segments of culture (Hudson and Blackburn 1982: 27).

The study of material culture, neglected by cultural or social anthropology since the 1930s, has, within the last decade, experienced a resurgence of interest. Archaeology, based on the material culture of the past, continued to develop the theory and method necessary to understand material culture. Other academic disciplines such as American studies, history, and art have begun to follow the lead of archaeology in exploring material culture. Cultural anthropology, once a leader, has fallen behind, though that is beginning to change.


Plan of Presentation / Chapter Topics

The following topics are discussed in this study, in the order mentioned:

Chapter 2, "Literature and museum search," describes the literature reviewed for this paper, as well as the museums contacted for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not Ioway bundles were to be found in their collections.

Chapter 3, "The Ioway: Historical and cultural context," provides the reader with an introduction to the Ioway people. Ioway origins, prehistory, and history up to the present day are briefly described, with a section on the mythological origins of the bundle system. Certain features of Ioway culture were especially well-connected to the bundle system, and these are described in greater detail, with sections on religious concepts, social organization, and material culture.

Chapter 4, "Ioway sacred bundles in context," relates extensive historical descriptions relating to the Ioway bundle system, with sections on the sacred pipes, war and war bundles, the doctoring societies (with descriptions of the native medical system, buffalo doctors, otter doctors, and witchcraft), tattooing, and the decline of the bundle system.

Chapter 5, "Sacred bundles at the Milwaukee Public Museum," gives a brief biography of Alanson Skinner, who collected for the museum, as well as descriptions of the bundles collected by Skinner. This section is arranged historically, following the process of collecting through his letters, the original catalog, and extensive notes on the contents of the bundles.

Chapter 6, "Sacred bundles at the Museum of the American Indian," describes the collection of sacred bundles made by Mark R. Harrington, taken from his unpublished notes at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.

Chapter 7, "Elements and symbolism in Ioway sacred bundles," notes the occurrence of elements in the bundles as well as some thoughts on symbolism.

Chapter 8, "Toward a taxonomy of Ioway sacred bundles," discusses the problems of the historical taxonomies, the attempt to construct a typology through bundle content assemblages, bundle types and attributes, linguistic evidence, and the attempt to construct a linguistic taxonomy.

Chapter 9, "Conclusions," wraps up the study with discussions on the bundles and the clans, museum transformation processes, archaeological implications of the study, suggested directions for future research, and the study's relevance to the Ioway of today. The study uses extensive quotes, most of which come from sources in obscure, out-of-print publications, or in unpublished manuscripts, vital in understanding the cultural context of the sacred bundles.



Table of Contents
1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9
Sacred Bundles home

Return to the Ioway Virtual Library