Two Row History

The Two Row Wampum belt is the symbolic record of the first agreement between Europeans and American Indian Nations on Turtle Island/North America. 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of this first covenant, which forms the basis for the covenant chain of all subsequent treaty relationships made by the Haudenosaunee and other Native Nations with settler governments on this continent. The agreement outlines a mutual, three-part commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living in parallel forever (as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). Throughout the years, the Haudenosaunee have sought to honor this mutual vision and have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a fundamental prerequisite for this continuing friendship. Here are links to some documents with more detailed background information.

Two Row History by Rick Hill, Tuscarora artist and historian
On Treaty Making by Chief Irv Powless
Two Row Translation and Context by Robert Venables
The Meaning of Kaswentha and the Two Row by Jon Parmenter
1925 New York Times article with Jesse Lyons and the Two Row
The Covenant Chain of Treaties Pt. 1 by Robert Venables
The Covenant Chain of Treaties Pt. 2 by Robert Venables
The Covenant Chain of Treaties Pt. 3 by Robert Venables
The Covenant Chain of Treaties Pt. 4 by Robert Venables
Analysis of the Two Row by Jon Parmenter

Onondaga Nation Chief Irving Powless Jr. displays the two row wampum belt at the Onondaga Land Rights forum at Syracuse Stage. Photo by Mike Greenlar

Here, quoted from his longer paper entitled  “On Treaty-making,” is Chief Irving Powless on the context and importance of the Two Row Wampum:

“In the 1600′s, when the Dutch had settled in what is now Albany and the surrounding area, we were looking at them as people who were coming into our territory with a different language, different culture, different ideas, but a people. Runners came from the Mohawk territory. They came to Onondaga to ask Tadodaho to call a meeting of the leaders of the Haudenosaunee, because we had people coming into our territory. We must decide how we are going to live together with the people who had entered our house and were living in a couple of our empty rooms. They were uninvited and they were destructive……

Under the protocol set up by the Peacemaker, some delegates were chosen, they went to Albany to meet with the leaders of the Dutch to discuss our concerns. After a time our leaders struck an agreement with the Dutch people, an agreement whereas they would live together in peace.

Our leaders informed the Dutch people. “From this day forward we will refer to each other as brothers.”  The Dutch agreed that this would be how we would conduct ourselves and greet each other from that day forward as brothers. The Dutch said to us, “We have pencils and paper, and so we will record this event on a piece of paper.”

We said, “That’s fine for you.” When the Haudenosaunee was formed, we were provided with a process to record events. This process is the use of wampum beads, which are made our of quahog shells……In the center of the shell it is purple. So we were given a process at that time to make beads…These beads were then white and purple.

We use these beads for identification, as carriers of messages, and as records of events…..We then informed the Dutch people that we would put our record of this event in a wampum belt.

“We think that in the future, there will come a time when you will not have your piece of paper, But we will still have our belt. Because we are meeting for the health and welfare of our people, we should make sure that this agreement lasts a long time, like forever.”

“Forever” is described by our ancestors in this agreement in the following words: “As long as the grass is green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” This is the first place that these words were spoken. Subsequently, you hear them movies, you hear them in various places. The United States used these actual words in some treaties that were made in the 1800s. But they were first spoken here by the Haudenosaunee to shoe that we would make this treaty last forever. We did not think that your paper would survive the times.

Today the sun still sets in the west, just like it did in the 1600s. So that hasn’t changed. The grass is still green. Next to my house there is a creek, and its water runs downhill. That agreement that we made back then is still effect as far as we are concerned.

…The first agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Europeans who were coming into our country was completed and recorded by the Haudenosaunee. It is called Guswenta, the Two Row Wampum belt…

This is an agreement between our two peoples. This agreement is still in effect because the grass is still green. This was the grandfather of all the treaties, this was the first one that we made. A very important concept was expressed at this time, that concept being that we were equal. At this time the Haudenosaunee was a very powerful, powerful people. We realized that you were a young people, that you were just learning, yet we realized that you were equal. This is a very important issue. You must understand the concept: we recognized you as people and that we were equal.

The Two Row Wampum belt is made of white and purple beads. The white beads denote truth. Our record says that one purple row of beads represents a sailboat. In the sailboat are the Europeans, their leaders, their government, and their religion. The other purple row of beads represents a canoe. In the canoe are the Native Americans, their leaders, their governments, and their Way of Life, or religion as you say it. We shall travel down the road of life, parallel to each other and never merging with each other.

In between the two rows of purple beads are three rows of white beads. The first row of white beads is “peace,” the second row, “friendship,” and the third rolw, “forever.” As we travel down the road of life together in peace and harmony, not only with each other, but with the whole circle of life—the animals, the birds, the fish, the water, the plants, the grass, the trees, the stars, the moon, and the thunder—we shall live together in peace and harmony, respecting all those elements. As we travel the road of life, because we have different ways and different concepts, we shall not pass laws governing the other. We shall not pass laws telling you what to do. You shall not pass a law telling me and my peoplke what to do.

The Haudenosaunee have never violated this treaty…

We have never passed a law telling you how to live…

You and your ancestors, on the other hand, have passed laws that continually try to change who I am, what I am, and how I shall conduct my spiritual, political and everyday life.”

(From, Chief Irving Powless Jr. “Treaty Making,” pp.15-34 in Treaty of Canandaigua 1794, Edited by G. Peter Jemison and Anna M. Schein. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers)

Here is some more context from Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons:

“…the famous GUSWENTA or Two Row Wampum Treaty. This belt I hold today is a replica of that Treaty. This particular Treaty is important because it established for all time the process by which we would associate with our White brethren.

The highlights of this agreement are first, we will call one another brothers. This row of purple wampum on the right represents the ongwahoway or Indian people; it is their canoe. In the canoe along with the people is our government, our religion or way of life.

The row of purple on the left is our White brethren, their ship, their government, and their religions for they have many.

The field of white represents peace and the river of life. We will go down this river in peace and friendship as long as the grass is green, the water flows, and the sun rises in the east.

It is this Treaty that those famous words were spoken. You will note the two rows do not come together, they are equal in size, denoting the equality of life, and one end is not finished, denoting the ongoing relationship into the future. With this belt was the Great Silver Covenant Chain of Friendship that is maintained throughout our interwoven histories.

This is a great humanitarian document because it recognizes equality in spite of the small size of the White colony and insures safety, peace and friendship forever, and sets the process for all of our ensuing Treaties up to this moment.

This belt was held by the Dutch, the English, the French , and George Washington representing your present government.” (119)

(Oren Lyons. 1986. “Indian Self-Government in the Haudenosaunee Constitution,” Nordic Journal of International Law vol. 121)

Finally, if you’d like to read a direction translation of the treaty and some more background information, please refer to this text by historian Robert Venables: Two Row Translation and Context