Two Row Wampum Campaign Prepares to Hit the Water
From the July-August 2013 PNL #826
Over two years ago, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation began discussions with the Onondaga Council of Chiefs about a major effort to mark the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum Treaty, the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Europeans. Collectively we developed a vision for taking the Two Row throughout New York State and beyond, to bring the Onondaga Nation’s vision for healing between our peoples and between humans and Mother Earth to many thousands of people.
Those of us who are not native felt a deep responsibility to call on our people to face our sordid history: the massacres, the theft of land, the boarding schools, efforts at cultural genocide and more. We know that even those of us who were not part of these atrocities still benefit from them through having access to this beautiful land.
Native and non-native, we believed that it was critical to “Polish the Silver Covenant Chain,” the series of treaties between the Haudenosaunee and various newcomers, begun with the Two Row in 1613. “Polishing” the chain refers to the process of renewing the agreement and charting a path toward justice, environmental protection and restoration.
From Vision to Reality
Hundreds of people have been involved in meetings, discussions, work projects and more to bring this idea to life. Thousands have attended events, heard speakers and read about the campaign. Newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television stations far and wide have covered the work. It has been an amazing process which has inspired many people.
Five municipalities (Onondaga County, Syracuse, Albany, Ithaca and Croton-on-Hudson) have issued strong statements of support for the renewal of the Two Row. Discussions are underway elsewhere. The centerpiece of the campaign is a symbolic paddling journey, bringing the Two Row Wampum concept to life with two rows of paddlers (one native and one ally) paddling side-by-side down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City. Our initial thoughts that we might be a small group evaporated under the flood of nearly 500 applications, and more continue to come. Paddlers from all six of the Haudenosaunee Nations will be joined by indigenous people from at least 20 other nations and hundreds of allies.
On July 2, a group of paddlers left Onondaga carrying a replica Two Row Wampum Belt to Albany via the ancient waterways. On the way they were joined by paddlers from the other Five Nations. The belt and the paddlers will rest for two weeks after this first leg of the journey.
On Sunday, July 28, a couple of hundred paddlers will launch on the Hudson across from Albany, beginning our 13-day journey. We expect thousands of people to greet us at launches, landings and events along the way. At several spots along the route the Unity Riders (Dakota people from Manitoba, Canada) will join their message of Unity with the Two Row. Haudenosaunee elders will share their wisdom and vision. Allies will speak to our responsibility to uphold these treaties. We will look at links between Indigenous Rights and African-American freedom struggles. We will dance together, camp together and eat together. It will be a powerful journey.
We will land in New York City on Friday, August 9, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Following a welcome that morning, we will march across Manhattan to the United Nations. A delegation from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will greet us outside the UN, and then some of us will join them for their formal program marking that day. Our trek will conclude with a major festival in New York City the following day.
A Beginning, Not an End
When we return to our homes in Syracuse, Onondaga, Albany, Akwesasne, Rochester, Six Nations, Minnesota, Tonawanda, the Hudson Valley, Tuscarora, Ithaca, Kahnawake, California, Allegany, Tully, the Netherlands, Oneida Wisconsin, Brooklyn, Cattaraugus, Vancouver, Tyendinaga and elsewhere, we will take a much needed rest.
Then we will begin assessing how far we have come and how to continue moving ahead with our original goals of Peace, Friendship and Sustainability. When we began these discussions over 26 full moons ago, we were seeking a way to build a social movement. We had come to believe that the federal courts would never provide a remedy for the crimes committed against the Haudenosaunee and other First Nation Peoples. We believed that the Two Row Wampum just might offer a vision to spark such a movement if it were accompanied by a broad campaign.
In the months to come we will see if we have developed sufficient momentum for that long term effort. We welcome you to join us anywhere along the way as we travel together down the River of Life.