Paddling to Preserve and Protect Honor our treaties, say Two Row Wampum participants
by Donna Beckwith
On August 9, 150 canoes glided into Pier 96 on W. 57th St. in New York City. The paddlers were the members of the Two Row Wampum Flotilla, a group commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first treaty between Haudenosaunee and settlers.
After being greeted by over a thousand people, the paddlers joined the crowd and marched together to the United Nations to participate in the UN's International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Their two week epic journey down the Hudson River from Albany, NY to the UN Headquarters was over.
The Haudenosaunee, sometimes called the Iroquois, are a confederation of five tribes who live across upstate New York, with the Mohawks on the east, the Senecas in the west, and the Onondagas in the center.
Their fringed wampum belts are treaties, made of purple and white shell beads threaded together. The Indians use the belts to remember the terms of the treaties. This particular beaded belt—two white rows in a field of purple—signifies two nations “traveling side by side down the river, neither telling the other how to live," explains Jack Manno, one of the organizers of the recent trip. The original treaty was written on paper by the Dutch settlers and recorded as a wampum belt by the natives. Unfortunately, only the native record of the treaty survived.
Exact figures are impossible to find, but hundreds and possibly thousands of treaties were made between the European settlers, and later, the US government. Every treaty has been violated. This is why the Onondagas decided to start a movement with two goals: to honor the treaties, and to protect the Earth.
"We paddle to get the attention of people because we're both native and non-native people paddling for the healing of our waters." ~ Emily Bishop, one of the campaign organizers
Those involved believe that the spirit of the agreement has never been more needed than today – that the challenges faced by climate change, the destructive pollution of the planet, increasing economic disparities, and issues of social injustice can only be addressed if people come together as equals, indigenous and non-indigenous, people of differing faith/spiritual traditions, political, social, cultural and other beliefs – and that it is critical we do so now.
Chief Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs shares: “What we hope to achieve is to educate people so that they do their part, individually . . . to protect Mother Earth and all the waters that flow for future generations.”
As illustrated on the wampum belt, the Two Row Wampum flotilla consisted of two parallel lines of paddlers, one of indigenous peoples and the other, their non-indigenous allies. Additionally, a core group of about 100 people, equal parts Natives and allies, worked on this monumental organizational effort, and, between 300 and 400 paddlers joined the flotilla for at least part of the journey.
The canoe trip was organized as a part of a year-long Two Row Wampum Renewal campaign with more events coming. "People want to continue paddling," said Jack Manno. "It hit a chord of hopefulness."