FORT LARAMIE – One day before the exact 150-year anniversary of the day Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud signed the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, Wendell Yellow Bull, a direct descendent to Red Cloud, carried a chanupa into the fort.
It was the very same chanupa, or sacred pipe, his legendary relative carried when he signed the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which helped bring peace between the United States government and the tribes of the Northern Great Plains and established the Native American reservation system. Red Cloud was the last tribal leader to sign the treaty, and the chanupa is a symbol of that peace.
“That pipe was actually used at the signing here 150 years ago,” Yellow Bull said. “That’s the exact one.”
The chanupa was a part of Red Cloud Remembered, a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the treaty signing. Monday’s ceremonies, which featured traditional songs, prayers, drums and food, was the culminating event in a summer-long series. The series was the result of friendly cooperation between Fort Laramie National Historic Site and the Oglala Lakota tribal leaders, but according to Yellow Bull, the 1868 meeting between federal forces and Red Bull’s army to sign the treaty was much tenser.
“The significance of today is that it was on Nov. 6 when Red Cloud signed the peace agreement,” he said. “What is unique about this is that prior to that the peace commission had dissolved. It was dissolved, and it was like two military forces meeting on the battlefield. This was two military forces coming together and agreeing to peace that is what is unique about this treaty.”
Yellow Bull is the current keeper of the chanupa. It has been passed down through his family since the treaty signing, and watching over the sacred pipe is a lifetime commitment.
“It is an icon for this family and most of the Oglalas,” he said. “We have something to show that peace came between two military forces.”
Fort Laramie superintendent Tom Baker said that he hopes the treaty commemoration is just the start of a working relationship between the fort and the indigenous people.
“Our indigenous nations came back to their homeland during this commemoration,” he said. “It was really a beautiful thing to see them reconnect with her past relatives and reconnect with the land.”
Baker said that that park staff and tribal members were able to have an important, open dialogue about the treaty. The dialogue, he said, will be the foundation of future cooperation to help remember the important events that took place at Fort Laramie.
“Obviously we talked about the bad things about the treaty, but more than that the overall feeling has been positive,” Baker said. “How do we move forward? How do we work with each other? And that is what the dialogue between the park and the tribes has been. It has been very open, very honest. We talked about the bad stuff, and we talked about the great stuff and the great future that lies ahead and how we can work together for the good of all people.”