In 1613, the Haudenosaunee, better known as the Iroquois, signed an agreement with Dutch settlers that recognized their newfound friendship and willingness to share the land. This year, Cayuga County will take part in helping to commemorate the 400th anniversary of one of the most significant treaties in history.
The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign event, being held June 5-7, will establish a path along the shore of Cayuga Lake, where people will walk or row from Stewart Park in Ithaca to Wells College in Aurora. The three-day journey will take participants a distance of nearly 30 miles in memory of the treaty’s signing, celebrating how two cultures can come together as one.
“You don’t learn about this stuff in history books,” said Lindsay Speer, media coordinator of the Two Row Wampum campaign. “With it being the 400th anniversary, it’s a good time to bring it to wider awareness.”
Speer said that although the original paper document was lost at some point throughout the centuries, the treaty’s words and its significant meaning have still been carried down from one generation to the next through oral history and through the wampum belt itself, which is still in the American Indians' possession today.
“It’s a very inspirational agreement,” Speer said of the treaty. “It reminds people that we can co-exist here together with others.”
The original treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Europeans describes a mutual commitment to friendship and peace, “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.” Those who work on the Two Row Wampum campaign regularly plan events that educate people about the document’s history and how to continue honoring it into the future.
Although the Haudenosaunee encompasses five other nations (Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora and Mohawk) in addition to the Cayugas, the Two Row Wampum event was planned in Cayuga County to show support for the neighboring tribes and to make sure that the treaty continues to be celebrated. The use of Cayuga Lake and the stops along the way add to the meaning of both the Two Row Wampum campaign and the treaty that was signed 400 years ago.
“It’s about respecting others, but also about respecting the river itself,” Speer said. “We don’t have to try and steer each other's ships. Instead, we can travel side by side.”
Vic Munoz, a psychology and gender studies professor at Wells College, said that there is also an academic side to the campaign and the event, which the college co-sponsors.
“A lot of people never learned much about Native American history, and there are a lot of stereotypes,” she said. “With this event, we can break down those stereotypes and get to know each other and realize that we actually have a lot in common.”
Munoz said that the campaign, by teaching American Indian culture, also helps the students at Wells College to understand more about the history of their surroundings at the school while tying into the concept of environmental sustainability that the college also emphasizes.
Speer and the other members of the Two Row Wampum campaign have been planning the event for about a year now, and she says that it will only preview what’s to come later this summer as part of the 400th anniversary celebration.
Through July and August, the celebration will continue with another row and walk event — this time, a 13-day trip from Albany to New York City along the Hudson River. Speer said that although the American Indian population has been very involved throughout the planning process and will be participating in the celebrations, there are also several non-native participants who have signed up to show their support.
“There will be representatives from all over at this event,” said Speer. “The Indian nation really has its own way of getting word around. It’s amazing how far the support and awareness has spread.”
Wells College will mark the end of the rowing and walking at the Cayuga County event, but the celebration will continue from there. The Cayuga Nation has invited all of the participants, as well as the rest of the public, to its annual picnic taking place June 8 at the Cayuga SHARE Farm in Union Springs, further honoring the words of the treaty that encouraged coexistence between people of different cultures.
Although the journey from Ithaca to Aurora is just one way that the treaty is still recognized today, the campaign celebrating it will continue to bring awareness to the centuries-old agreement, Speer said, and will hopefully continue to preserve it in years to come, as well.
“The more we understand about how both groups want to be treated, the more it becomes a strong basis for avoiding political conflicts,” she said. “It’s not just about the past. It’s about the future, too.”