AURORA | As the participants made their way to the shore, spectators watching from land clapped for them as they completed the final yards of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign's Walk and Paddle event.
The three-day journey was organized to commemorate the 400th anniversary of a treaty signed by the Haudenosaunee Indians, better known as the Iroquois, and the European settlers. The treaty brought to each culture a mutual friendship built on peace and respect, one that is still acknowledged today.
The trip started June 5 in Ithaca and ended Friday at Wells College, after participants walked and rowed between 10 and 15 miles on each of the three days. About 20 members of the Cayuga Nation were joined by other Native Americans from across the state, as well as non-natives, to celebrate the anniversary.
"This stuff concerns everyone," said Dan Hill, council member of the Heron Clan, a Cayuga Nation group. "It wasn't just one side out there today, it was everyone together."
Hill said that a presence on the water during the event was important because one of the most significant aspects of the centuries-old treaty is a commitment to sustainability and protecting nature. The Cayugas also wanted to show future generations the importance of preserving the environment that surrounds them.
"We are all responsible for this environment," said Hill. "This is what our kids and their kids will come into and we need to understand that we're all responsible for reestablishing it."
Wells College president Lisa Marsh Ryerson said that the environment is also very important to the college and its history, and that the relationship with the Native Americans is a large part of the school, and the county, and should be understood by everyone who is involved.
"It's important in so many ways," she said. "We need to be cognizant every day of what we have, having Wells College located right in the heart of the Cayuga Nation."
This event was a precursor to a larger one taking place in July, in which rowers and walkers will make their way from Albany to New York City in a 13-day venture down the Hudson River. Several representatives from Cayuga County are preparing to take part in that event, as well as Native American tribes throughout the entire state, and Hill said that the Cayugas are planning to do another trial run before then to make sure they are ready.
The treaty signed in 1613 was an agreement between two very different cultures to peacefully coexist on the land they shared and make sure that it was taken care of by both sides. Now, 400 years later, the Cayuga Nation and the non-natives who now inhabit the area surrounding Cayuga Lake are still working hard to enforce that.
"It's a gift," said Ryerson, "and we need to make sure that we are all the best possible humans and the best possible neighbors we can be."