By Rtn. Anthony Conn — www.KeokukPeaceLetters.com
To Native Americans the Peace Pipe* is offered to uphold and affirm agreements and commitments within the tribe or with groups outside of the tribe. When an individual participates in a Sacred Pipe Ceremony, they are proclaiming the TRUTH. In early American history, up to the late 1900s, white Americans and Europeans misunderstood this tradition and viewed it only as a celebration of a peace settlement. Today, we better understand the full meaning of the sacred pipe, and this spirit of the pipe is needed more than ever around the globe.
American Rotarian William Jewett Fulton borrowed the idea of the Peace Pipe as part of his initiative in support of the then 6th object of Rotary, “Improvement of International Relations.” You see, in May 1931, Fulton was finishing his year as president of the Rotary Club of Keokuk**. As was then tradition, he and his wife, Louesa, traveled to attend the 22nd Annual Rotary International Convention, held that year in Vienna. At this convention, European Rotarians were sounding the alarm on the social, economic, and political unrest across the European continent. The line-up of speakers was impressive, and the message was consistent and clear; we have a problem in Europe that is only going to get worse if we do not act now.
Fulton and his wife traveled throughout Austria, Germany, and Belgium in the weeks following the convention. During his travels, the warnings he heard at the convention were reinforced as he visited Rotarian friends and witnessed, first-hand, the early unfolding of one of the most tragic chapters of human history. When Fulton returned to his home club, he reported on the convention and what he witnessed. He was pressed to reach out to all international Rotarians, open lines of communication. Perhaps a Peace Pipe….
At 33 years old, Fulton was old enough to remember the Great War and the horrific cost of that event. His idea was simple and brilliant…. Send a letter to all non-English speaking Rotary Clubs. Send greetings, an introduction to the ancient Native American custom, and ask for a reply. His intent was to open lines of communication and build friendships. From a manual typewriter, 504 letters were sent to the sitting president of those Rotary clubs around the world. One week later, replies began arriving in Keokuk. By mid-1932, nearly 200 letters had been received by Fulton. Correspondence was flowing, friendships made, and as Paul Harris himself said…” This is good work.”
Today, we see many of the same warning signs as Jewett Fulton did in 1931; the rise of Nationalism, acceptance of authoritarian leaders, nations encroaching on their neighbor’s lands, a widening gap in the distribution of wealth, demonizing immigrants, etc. This is made worse as weapons of destruction have become frightening and devastating and the speed to deliver those weapons is measured in minutes. The spirit of the Peace Pipe is needed now more than ever:
*Sacred Pipe. Ceremonial pipes, as used by Native people, have sometimes been called “peace pipes” by Europeans, which is a bit of a misnomer. The čhaŋnúŋpa (cha-NOON-pah) was used in sacred ceremonies to offer prayers in a religious ceremony, to make a ceremonial commitment, or—in their experience—to seal a covenant or treaty. Historically, ceremonial pipes were used to formalize peace accords, guide commerce and trade, impact social and political decision-making, and provide solemnity to special occasions and interactions.
**City of Keokuk, Iowa, named after Chief Keokuk (1780-1848), leader of the Sauk and Fox tribes. Keokuk is noted as a skillful negotiator and proponent of peaceful solutions.