This week begins a year long campaign in New York that focuses on the Two Row Wampum, a treaty between the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Nation, and some of the first settlers of New York state. The idea is educate, advocate, and create a better relationship Native Americans and New Yorkers.
The Two Row Wampum, a white belt with two rows of purple beads made from shells and held together by sinew. One row of beads represents the canoe with all the Haudenosaunee ways in that canoe. And the other, the boat of the Europeans that had come, and all that they brought.
The wampum is 400 years old this year. That's why Onondaga Turtle Clan Mother Frieda Jacques says it's a good time to bring it out and polish it, so to speak, and remember its history.
"The Haudenosaunee made an agreement early on, via the Mohawks over near Albany, near the Hudson, with the first settlers who came, who were the Dutch," explains Jacques. "And we made a wampum that depicted what the agreement was about."
And it is a message that has endured. "Anytime our peoples, this means any of the five nations, six nations, met someone new into our territories, they would bring this wampum belt out and speak of this agreement with them, so they understood it," said Jacques.
She adds that the treaty did more than promote peace and friendship between the Haudenosaunee and settlers. "An important aspect of this agreement was that we live in the river of life and we all need to take care of it. So the environment was a part of this agreement," said Jacques.
Andy Mager is project coordinator of the campaign. He says the environment is a key part of the essence of the wampum. "The River of Life has been fouled very terribly by our people, and we need to take care of that, if there's going to be a future for our children and our grandchildren," said Mager.
So part of the campaign is advocating for environmental issues, for example opposing the controversial gas drilling process hydrofracking.
Another component says Mager, means righting past wrongs. "Part of the message of this campaign is that our people, the people of New York, and the people of the United States, and our respective governments, have not upheld the agreements that were signed in our name," said Mager. "And it's our responsibility, if we live in a democracy, to make those things right."
The campaign kicks off Monday evening with the "Sharing the River of Life" presentation in Syracuse. The high point of the campaign, will be a canoe trip down the Hudson this summer, with Native Americans and New Yorkers paddling side by side.
Mager hopes more New Yorkers become aware of the message of the Two Row Wampum, adding that this is a good time in history to contemplate it.
"We need to respect one another, we need to to respect one another's differences," said Mager. "We need to openly confront difficulties."