By Jelane A. Kennedy
I am reminded again that we many times don’t have to travel far for great opportunities to share culture and to learn from others. This was another one of those experiences. We attended the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign kick off celebration that was held on the campus of Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Two Row Wampum refers to the Two Row Wampum belt that symbolizes the first agreement between the American Indian and the Europeans. This year marks the 400th anniversary of this treaty. The agreement was an understanding between people’s to “friendship, peace between peoples and living in parallel forever” (honorthetworow.org)
A wampum belt was made to mark this agreement. The belt has five rows of beads, three white rows that provide the background representing “friendship, peace and living in parallel forever”. One purple row in the belt symbolized a sailboat and the Europeans. The other purple row in the belt symbolized the canoe and the Native Americans. This was to demonstrate respect for each group’s culture, religion, beliefs and philosophies of life. (Read more at http://www.honorthetworow.org)
As part of the event a group of native and non-native allies will paddle to New York City to attend a meeting at the United Nations for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People (August 9, 2013) and a final festival in New York City (August 10, 2013). The paddlers will be on the Hudson for 13 days, paddling, camping and educating. They will paddle between 9-15 miles each day. On the day of the festival in Troy 250 paddlers were registered but more were coming in.
Attending the festival was like walking into another world. There was a sense of calm that permeated the campus grounds with an undercurrent of excitement. Old friends and new friend met and greeted each other. Our friend Gayle told us about the festival and we ran into her along with her Mom, Mable and Mable’s friend Sylvia. We spent much of the day with Mable and Sylvia. All three identify as Mohawk.
While at the festival we listened to the Akwesasne Women’s choir perform twice during the day. I could have listened all day to their singing. Most of their music centered in honoring the divine feminine.
One of the biggest events was the Dakota Unity Riders arrival on horseback on the streets of Troy. This was an uncommon occurrence in the big city. They made a loop around the campus and then came onto the campus grounds. They are a group of men and women riders dressed in bright color regalia. They will ride from Albany through the Hudson Valley along the way with the paddlers. The Riders come from Manitoba, Canada. The purpose of their ride is to spread the message of peace and healing for all nations.
At one point in the day Mable and Sylvia discussed how the different languages of the tribes had just some words that sounded the same. This made me think about the distinctness of each tribe. At lunch we were sitting at a long table with many chairs. At one point Mable asked the woman that came to sit next to her:
“Are you Onondaga?”
“No, he is Seneca and I’m Cayuga.” She said.
“We are Mohawk.” Responded Mable.
Then Gayle point to a young man with a shirt that said Onondaga. “Looks like he’s is Onondaga, we almost have enough for our own meeting.” She joked. As I listened I was struck by how identifying their tribe identifies their culture and homeland like I might identify Ireland, Norway, Sweden, etc.
The day was low key and time schedules flexed as performances move in and out. We saw the craft area and silent auction. Eileen bid on and won two wonderful children’s books at the auction, the proceeds from the auction would help pay for the day’s events. There was also a demonstration area where information about the Dutch settlers and their lives was on display, some of who could have been my ancestors except my family immigrated later in time.
Later on I watched on as Eileen learned to bead a bracelet that represents the Two Row Campaign. Children of all ages worked on the beading. I also watched Haudenosaunee Social dancing before we went in for the final closing/blessing, which once again reminded me of my responsibility to stewardship and the interconnection we have with each other and all the resources that make up our world (animals, plants, water, air, etc.). It was a day spent in friendship, peace and understanding how to respect our parallel lives.
Update: A short film has been made about the Two Row Wampum Renewal called: Guswenta. If you get a chance don’t miss seeing a screening of the film. It is a great piece and the film maker is working on a longer feature film. Seeing the paddlers and the journey was amazing! This is an important story for all of us.
(c) 2013 Jelane A. Kennedy