Drumming For Recovery
December 15, 2021

Drumming For Recovery

with Francis “Rock” Pipestem

Descending from the Osage Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes

Francis “Rock” (Nayi-Hu) Pipestem is a singer, drum maker, and teacher. He was taught by his elders and has sung in the Grayhorse Inlonshka since 1992. In 2018, he founded Pipestem Drums and Rawhide Development, an organization serving Native communities that’s dedicated to the preservation and teaching of cultural arts.  Pipestem strives to promote, practice, and sustain cultural arts for coming generations. Residing in Pawhuska, he and his wife Anna have four children, Kingston, Katelynn Rose, Emma, and Jesse. Pipestem is a Minister of Jesus Christ licensed through the Osage Indian Baptist Church in Pawhuska.

For decades, Francis “Rock” Pipestem has been creating handmade drums for ceremonial and social gatherings. “The Osages/Wazhazhes have ceremonial dances every June,” says Pipestem. “There are three different districts, and each district has its own drum. These communities are Grayhorse, Hominy, and Pawhuska, and I have been singing in the Grayhorse community since 1992.”  According to Pipestem, the Grayhorse drum was given to his People from the Poncas in the late 1800s. “The Grayhorse drum we use today is over 130 years old,” says Pipestem.  

For his 2021 Cultural Capital fellowship, Pipestem is building Thunder, a bison hide drum measuring 42 inches in diameter. “I will be using hides from the Ioway bison herd,” explains Pipestem. “The frame is going to be made of select maple hardwoods and birch plywood of the finest quality.”

Moreover, Thunder represents Pipestem’s connection and strength to his faith. “I plan on having [Thunder] painted and keeping it as a mighty instrument to praise God,” says Pipestem. “Thunder will represent the heartbeat of the Father.”

“And I’m so thankful to First Peoples Fund’s Cultural Capital Fellowship because it’s helping me to accomplish my mission.”
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1. Pipestem with his Osage bison bull hand drum. Image provided by the artist. 2. Osage bison hide drum created by Pipestem. Image provided by the artist. 3. Drums created by Francis “Rock” Pipestem for the Voices of the Drum exhibit. Image provided by the artist. 4. Francis “Rock” Pipestem. 2021 Cultural Capital fellow. Image provided by the artist.

The Road To Recovery

Pipestem advocates that drum making is a healing tool for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. “Over the past three years I have been employed as a Cultural Consultant for the Osage Nation Primary Residential Treatment Center,” says Pipestem. “I am a graduate of meth and alcohol addiction.”

“I help [residents] construct rawhide shields,” says Pipestem. “I also teach them songs about having courage [during] their recovery.”

Pipestem says his role as a Cultural Consultant is a rewarding experience. “To see someone succeed is so beautiful and powerful. In my time there, I have made countless hand drums and shields. I take this work very seriously, as many of our people struggle with addiction. I am thankful God gave me my dream job.”

Believing In Community Spirit

Recently, Pipestem was commissioned to create drums for the Voices of the Drum exhibit, which features artwork from over 20 traditional artists. “My goal is to be the best drum maker, and God opened the door for me to build 19 drums,” celebrates Pipestem, whose own artwork inspired the exhibit’s concept. According to Osage Nation Museum Director Marla Redcorn-Miller (Osage/Kiowa/Caddo), the exhibit “opens an avenue for fresh perspectives to enter our traditional practices, celebrating them and renewing their purpose for people of today.”

And Pipestem’s long-term vision is to build drums that are enhanced by his faith. “As I grow spiritually, my art form has grown immensely,” says Pipestem. “I build drums dedicated to the Great Spirit.”

“And as a [Cultural Capital] fellow, I will be able to uplift my art and inspire other artists from my community.”
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