After a year’s worth of buildup, the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign flotilla is finally making its way to the mid-Hudson over the next couple of weeks. It will make stops in Catskill, Saugerties, Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Beacon en route to a gathering of First Nations representatives from around the globe at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on August 9. The canoeists and kayakers paddling down the Hudson in a symbolic commemoration of the 1613 Treaty of Tawagonshi between Dutch settlers and the Haudenosaunee (a/k/a Iroquois) people will step ashore for a variety of public events, and be met at several stops by the Dakota Nation Unity Riders, who have ridden their “medicine horses” all the way from Manitoba on a mission of peace and healing.
For those who have missed the advance buzz on this epic journey, here’s the shorthand version: The Guswenta or Two Row Wampum is a prized artifact of the Onondaga Nation of the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The beaded belt is regarded among that tribe as the physical representation of one of the earliest treaties between Native peoples and European colonists, of which no original written copies appear to have survived.
According to tradition, the belt’s two parallel rows of purple quahog-shell beads depict two canoes traveling side-by-side, their paths never crossing, representing the relationship of mutual respect and non-interference being established between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee by this “grandfather of all treaties.” Three rows of white beads are said to symbolize the concepts of “peace,” “friendship” and “forever” — or as the Dutch transcribed it, a “promise in love and friendship to continue and to maintain for as long as grass is green.”
In the view of the Onondaga Nation, the Treaty of Tawagonshi truly was meant to endure forever, and has been abrogated many times by land transfers over the intervening centuries. Since 2005 the Onondagas have been pursuing a court case seeking the restoration of some 4,000 square miles of land that they contend the State of New York acquired from the tribe illegally; at last report an appeal was up before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Part of the intent of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, besides celebrating the 400th anniversary of the treaty, is to raise public awareness of the tribe’s legal struggles and the history of U.S. government dealings, often in bad faith, with Native peoples in general. Renewed commitment to environmental stewardship regarding such issues affecting New York State as hydrofracking and the cleanup of the Hudson River is a third focus of the campaign.
So the idea was hatched to stage an odyssey by water from the Onondaga Nation all the way to Manhattan, mostly via the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, with two literal rows of canoeists – one composed of Native people and the other of non-Native supporters — paddling in harmony to replicate the symbolism of the Guswenta. The core group struck out from Syracuse on July 2, with additional boaters joining the flotilla at various points along the route. They are scheduled to leave Albany this Sunday, July 28 on the Hudson leg of the voyage. Native chiefs, elders and other dignitaries from several tribes, along with plenty of performers, artists, academics and civic leaders, will converge with the boaters in cities and towns all along the route for public celebrations with an educational intent.
Meeting Unity Riders
The Dakota Nation Unity Riders are expected to cross the newly renovated Wallkill Valley Rail Trail trestle over the Rondout Creek in Rosendale on Monday, July 29 at 10 a.m. Meanwhile, the first arrival of the Two Row Wampum flotilla in our region is set to take place at Catskill Point Park in Catskill on Tuesday, July 30 at around 4:30 p.m., with a presentation called “Protecting the River of Life” by Onondaga faithkeeper Oren Lyons scheduled for 7 p.m. (Bear in mind with all these dates and times that the flotilla’s rate of progress will be dependent on such variables as weather conditions, tides and currents, equipment issues and other vicissitudes of fate.)
The group plans to set off south again at about 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 31, headed for a 4:30 p.m. landing at Sojourner Truth Park in Saugerties. Befitting such a site, a “Sharing Circle” will discuss Indigenous Rights and African-American Freedom beginning at 7 p.m., with Dr. Airy Dixon, Rev. Modele Clark and Allison Smith as featured speakers, followed by what should be a truly butt-kicking cross-cultural drumming session.
Leaving Saugerties about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 1, the flotilla will head for the Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout in Kingston, where the boaters will converge with the Dakota Nation Unity Riders. A celebration from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. will feature speakers including Tadodaho Sid Hill of the Onondagas, Jim Davis, Hawk Storm, Unity Rider chief Gus High Eagle, Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack and Kingston mayor Shayne Gallo.