Renewing the First Treaty Between American Indian Nations and European Settlers: Two Row Wampum

“…as long as the grass is green.”

2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum Treaty – the first treaty made between American Indians and European Settlers in North America. The original treaty parties were the Haudenosaunee (the Five Nations of the Iroquois, which includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations), and Dutch colonists who lived in what today is upstate New York.

The statement, “as long as the grass is green,” appears in the original treaty, and conveys how long the Two Row Wampum Treaty was meant to last. It was a poetic way of saying “forever.”

The Origins of a Treaty Marking Friendship, Peace, and Mutual Respect

The treaty bound the Haudenosaunee and Dutch together in an agreement of friendship, peace, and mutual respect toward each other as sovereign nations. The two parties agreed to cooperate and support each other, and at the same time, allow each other to move forward with their different cultural values and practices without interfering with one another.

While the Dutch settlers chose to write the treaty down on paper, the Haudenosaunee chose to use a belt, or “wampum,” made of shell beads, as a symbol of the agreement.  The belt has two purple stripes running down it, set between three white stripes.  The white stripes symbolize friendship, peace, and respect. The purple stripes represent a canoe and a ship traveling down the same river, separately but in parallel, each with its own government, religion, and way of life.

Honoring Our Roots by Reviving a 400 Year Old Promise

Today, because the grass is still green, the treaty is technically still in force. This is largely unknown by the populace as as a whole, though not by the Haudenosaunee.  However, not all European Americans have forgotten, and on this 400th anniversary of the treaty, they are partnering with the Onondaga Nation to help renew this first promise white settlers agreed to uphold for all time.

The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign aims to “reflect the Two Row Wampum’s three-part vision of peace, friendship, and a sustainable future in parallel forever.”  Some of its goals are to…

  • Increase awareness of the Two Row Wampum Treaty; what was agreed to,  what it meant then and means today, including the legal priority given to treaties in the U.S. Constitution.
  • Educate about the importance of Indigenous peoples’ efforts to reclaim and protect their sovereignty including self-governance and conflict-resolution, control of land, development of economies that meet people’s needs, health and reproductive services, education and socialization of children and culture.
  • Increase recognition and appreciation of the contemporary Haudenosaunee and other Native nations and peoples; their culture, aspirations, worldview and ecological knowledge.
  • Highlight the powerful influence of Haudenosaunee thought and practices on the foundations of U.S. democracy, advancement of women’s rights and authority, spread of ecological understanding and many others.
  • Create awareness of the link between environmental destruction and the US’s failure to live up to the promise of the Two Row Wampum Treaty.
  • Support/help facilitate change in the way people relate to and orient themselves toward the environment.  Engender respect for the laws of Nature.

Read the rest of the campaign’s goals here.

A Nation’s Collective Amnesia

It’s an understatement to say too little attention is paid to American Indian history, and the circumstances of many American Indian Nations today.  By allowing the continued breach of treaties that should still be in force, and remaining ignorant about the first inhabitants of North America, we continue to dishonor them, and ourselves.  By learning, remembering, and renewing our promises, we raise the hope that friendship, peace, and respect for all North Americans may yet be possible.

To learn more, please check out these websites: