This 400th anniversary campaign, carried out throughout 2013, is finished. The work to honor treaties with Native Nations and protect the Earth continues. Learn more, or join in that work: contact the Onondaga Nation, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, Neetopk Keetopk (Hudson Valley), Onondaga Canoe and Kayak Club or Two Row Paddle down the Grand (2016).

Historic Controversy?

We began 2013 excited about the powerful campaign being organized. Unfortunately, others tried to rain on our parade. The Albany Times-Union ran a lengthy article  questioning  the validity of the Two Row Wampum. This article was reprinted via AP far and wide with a far worse headline. In addition, a letter to the New Paltz paper questioned both the treaty and our motives, though they had most of their facts wrong. These critiques are the result of a counter campaign by two men who have a long history of opposing Haudenosaunee initiatives and efforts to recognize the many contributions of the Haudenosaunee.

Instead of brightening the chain of friendship between our peoples, these articles have added more tarnish to it, and show just how badly this educational campaign is needed. We clearly have more work to do.

For the record, the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign was initiated by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON), an ally group that is a project of the Syracuse Peace Council. After working closely with the Onondaga Nation to help educate people in Central New York about the Onondaga’s perspectives, culture, and concerns for over ten years, NOON wanted to build on the success we’ve had in Central New York to bring healing between our peoples, and share that success with the rest of the state. Our success in working together has been based on NOON’s understanding and respect for the Two Row Wampum, which describes how we are to treat each other with respect to coexist in peace and friendship together.

While the project was initiated by NOON, they did not move forward with it until the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs lent their support to it over a year ago. Then the planning began, a process which we all have greatly enjoyed and has developed deeper relationships between NOON members and Onondagas, and the other Haudenosaunee who have assisted with the campaign.

Never, at any time, has this campaign been about casinos or land claim monies, as some have alleged. It is about understanding, it is about justice and it is about creating a sustainable future for all of us! The most ulterior motive that could possibly be attributed to the campaign is our hope that New York State officials will educate themselves on Haudenosaunee treaties and diplomacy, so as to prevent repeating the costly political blunders when dealing with the Haudenosaunee that we have seen in the past.

As to the validity of the Two Row Wampum, the criticisms and doubt have been based on one document that surfaced in the late 1960s that may have represented Dutch documentation of the agreement. There are two historians who claim this documentation was a “fake” created by Van Loon, the Dutch doctor who found it.

The status of that document is irrelevant. The agreement with the Dutch and the subsequent resulting treaties are recorded in the wampum belts of the Haudenosaunee and their meanings have been passed down generation to generation through speakers trained in the oral tradition. Evidence of the Two Row and Covenant Chain of Friendship are documented in the white man’s history long before the controversial document came to light, such as in the 1744 Lancaster treaty proceedings printed by Benjamin Franklin, in 1924 when Onondaga Chief Jesse Lyons brought the Two Row to Washington, D.C., and among others.

Is there a lack of complete documentation of when the Two Row Wampum agreement was made? Absolutely. History was not recorded well in those days, and paper documents have been lost by the Europeans. What we do know is that it was made, and its principles and language, particularly the “covenant chain,” were found in most recorded treaty negotiations from the Dutch onward and forms the basis of relations today. Our campaign has never claimed to be a reenactment of the treaty signing – it is a celebration of peace and friendship and an enactment of the principles carried in the oral tradition.

Whatever the status of the “Treaty of Tawagonshi” document from Van Loon, 1613 does represent a time when early Dutch explorers came into repeated contact with Mohawks (the “Eastern Door” of the Haudenosaunee) and other native people in the Hudson Valley, which would have prompted the creation of such an agreement of coexistence as the Two Row. In 1614 the first Dutch settlement called Fort Nassau was built near the site of Albany. Could they have done so without diplomacy with the Haudenosaunee? Given the political and military clout of the Haudenosaunee and their allies at the time, this is highly unlikely. So 2013 is a completely valid date for honoring the 400th anniversary of relations between our peoples.