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400 Years: Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign

Dave Lucas

There’s a growing movement to spread the word that the first agreement made 400 years ago between Native Americans and European settlers is not only still valid, but has relevance today. In 1613 in what is now upstate New York, the first agreement was consecrated between indigenous peoples and interlopers from afar. Andy Mager is coordinator for the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, says the current push to educate people about the Two Row Wampum is an initiative to look back at the pact, consider its relevance today, and share information about this "first treaty," which many consider to still be in effect.

The Onondoga Nation consists of a 7,300-acre territory just south of Syracuse. Chief Oren Lyons says while his culture evolves with the challenges of the modern world, it is important to remember the history and significance of the Two Row Wampum treaty of 1613, when Dutch settlers sought an agreement with native peoples to ensure safe travel. Lyons says a council of the five regional Indian Nations was called, and they gathered to hammer out the principles crafted into the original Two Row Wampum belt.  The European settlers recorded their version of the treaty on paper.

In Lyons' words,  “As long as the grass grows green, water flows downhill, and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the wampum belt has meaning.”

Lyons is among a group of advocates who won’t let the Two Row Wampum belt become a "lost artifact." An extended interview with him appears in an audio file accompanying this article. Lyons describes the two rows. He explained the belt represents friendship between two peoples.  Beads of white and purple were threaded onto strings, forming a belt. The white beads represent truth. The purple beads appear in two distinct rows, one representing the canoe of the Haudenosaunee, the other representing the sailboat of the incoming Europeans. Each individual row represents the separate cultures, traditions, governments and religions. Three rows of white beads are threaded between the purple rows run three rows of white beads, standing for peace, friendship and an eternal sense of equality.

Lyones emphasizes The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign has been deployed to remind people how to coexist in peace and friendship, with a shared responsibility to care for the environment. This month, the Albany Common Council and the Croton Town Board both unanimously passed resolutions in support of the campaign. Other governments considering the resolution include the Towns of Rosendale, Stony Point, Williamsville, and Woodstock, and the Ulster County Legislature.

The Seneca Nation's Kevin Nephew (who appears on a seperate audio file accompanying this article) says there are events scheduled to be held in the Capital Region supporting the Two Row Wampum Renewal, including Saturday June 15th in Fonda and "send-off celebration festival" Saturday July 27th at Russell Sage College in Troy. Here's more about the coming events.

Extended interview with Chief Oren Lyons, June 2013, Albany NY.

Extended interview with Seneca Kevin Nephew, June 2013, Albany NY.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.