Chapter 1: Introduction
The study of sacred bundles
She stared at him, dismayed. "Doctor Van Vliet, have you no respect for the
"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
"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
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and the bundle belief system among the Ioway is no longer active, several people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
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
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
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
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
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
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