The Two Row Wampum

The Two Row Wampum, a 17th century treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch colonists, was the first treaty made by the confederacy with European settlers. It is understood by the Haudenosaunee to be the basis on which all subsequent treaties were made and as a model of relationships between peoples. The wampum itself is a white shell belt with two purple rows. The white field symbolizes peace and friendship and the two purple rows represent the separate but equal paths of two sovereign nations.

You say that you are our father and I am your son.
We say, We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers.

This wampum belt confirms our words.
These two rows will symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together.
One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian people, their laws, their customs and their ways.
The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways.
We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.

The agreement has been kept by the Haudenosaunee to this date.

Who are the Haudenosaunee?

Haudenosaunee is the general term we use to refer to ourselves, instead of “Iroquois.” The word “Iroquois” is not a Haudenosaunee word. It is derived from a French version of a Huron Indian name that was applied to our ancestors and it was considered derogatory, meaning “Black Snakes.” Haudenosaunee means “People building an extended house” or more commonly referred to as “People of the Long House.” The longhouse was a metaphor introduced by the Peace Maker at the time of the formation of the Confederacy meaning that the people are meant to live together as families in the same house. Today this means that those who support the traditions, beliefs, values and authority of the Confederacy are to be know as Haudenosaunee.

The founding constitution of the Confederacy brought the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk nations under one law. Together they were called the Five Nations by the English, and Iroquois by the French. The Tuscarora joined around 1720, and collectively they are now called the Six Nations.

We also refer to ourselves as “Ongwehonweh,” meaning that we are the “Original People” or “First People” of this land. The Haudenosaunee is actually six separate nations of people who have agreed to live under the traditional law of governance that we call the Great Law of Peace. Each of these nations have their own identity, In one sense, these are our “nationalities.” Many of the names that we have come to know the tribes by are not even Indian words, such as Tuscarora or Iroquois. The original member nations are:
Seneca, “Onondowahgah,” meaning The People of the Great Hill, also referred to as the Large Dark Door.
Cayuga, “Guyohkohnyoh,” meaning The People of the Great Swamp.
Onondaga, “Onundagaono,” meaning The People of the Hills.
Oneida, “Onayotekaono,” meaning The People of the Upright Stone.
Mohawk, “Kanienkahagen,” meaning The People of the Flint.
Tuscarora, known as “Ska-Ruh-Reh” meaning The Shirt Wearing People.

What is the Great Law of Peace?

The Great Law is the founding constitution of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. It is an oral tradition, codified in a series of wampum belts now held by the Onondaga Nation. It defines the functions of the Grand Council and how the native nations can resolve disputes between themselves and maintain peace.

The Peacemaker traveled among the Iroquois for many years, spreading his message of peace, unity and the power of the good mind. Oral history says that it may have taken him forty some years to reach everyone...[and that] he was met with much skepticism...he continued and was able to persuade fifty leaders to receive his message. He gathered them together and recited the passages of the Great Law of Peace. He assigned duties to each of the leaders...he selected the women as the Clan Mothers, to lead the family clans and select the male chiefs...The Peace Maker then established clans among the Haudenosaunee as a way to unite the Five Nations and as a form of social order.

...A clan is a group of families that share a common female ancestry. Members of one clan are considered relatives and intermarriage in the same clan is forbidden. Clans are named after animals that give special assistance to the people - water (turtle, eel, beaver); land (bear, deer, wolf), sky (snipe, heron, hawk). Clanship identity is very important to the Haudenosaunee. The Chiefs were to use the power of their minds to reason, to figure what was best for the welfare of the people... We are to view the chiefs like a circle of standing trees, supporting the Tree of Peace that grows in the middle. They help to keep it from falling over...

The hardest part of the Great Law is to understand the meaning of the concept of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. In the Iroquoian mind, peace is a state of mind...Each individual has a base spiritual power. As you go through life as Haudenosaunee, experience different things, learn more, comprehend more and tap into other forms of spiritual power, your own spirit grows as well. The old timers called it orenda. Everyone is thought to have it to some degree. It effects how we do things. Good minds have strong orenda. So the ultimate power of the Great Law rests in how well the individual person develops their sense of regard to the well-being of the others in the clan, in the village, in the nation and in the Confederacy of the Six Nations.

This article is reprinted from, the official website of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

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