Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Two Row Wampum Is About Respect
The Two Row Wampum has been mischaracterized too long. We are told by too many that the Two Row started between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch, that it is a trade agreement and that it specifically references the canoe and the ship. While it has been used over and over again in many circumstances and explained in many ways, the reality is that the Two Row is simply about respect. In the words of Kaneseraga; "Our first and most sacred covenant is with Nature and our Mother, the Earth." The Two Row starts here. When we say the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen or the "words before all else" we do this to convey our respect to all of creation. We start with the People and cover every relationship we have; from the most distant stars in the sky to the stone, soil and water at our feet.
The Two Row with its magnificently simple design depicts two rows of purple wampum set against a background of white. The two rows are equal and run side by side with each other. We represent one of those rows. The other is for any and all that we share a mutual respect. Any one of those mentioned in the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen can be placed on that second row. When we say those words before all else, we describe our connection to creation and all that it has produced. The key is respecting our relations as equals and respecting that while we all have our own path; we are still connected.
When the Two Row is described as two vessels on the river of life, it is the river that connects us. The distinction of the separate and equal rows show a respect for the distinct paths our vessels travel. It is said that everything that is ours must stay in our canoe while everything that is theirs must stay in their ship. This concept of possession was foreign to our ancestors. What they did understand was responsibility and the consequences of losing our way. It was told to me that much of the problems of today is that too many want the "things" or benefits of every path or vessel they see with the responsibility of none. When we disrupt the paths of others simply for the taking or when our path is disrupted, there are consequences.
The Two Row started with us. We used it to show respect to all that accept the responsibility of maintaining their path. Nature has always done this unequivocally. This concept was put in place between the people of the Haudenosaunee and shared with people of other cultures. The Two Row Wampum was also put in place with other Onkwe Ohnwe as a path for peace without coming under the Kaianerehkowa and the protection of the Tree of Peace. When helpless strangers reached our shores and expressed a desire for peace the Two Row was offered and accepted, first by the Dutch and followed by the French, British and ultimately by their offspring that would come to be known as Americans.
The Two Row Wampum began as covenant of respect that we shared with and offered to all that we knew. When the concept was offered to a foreign people with no common history, language or culture, it would become the first and only treaty ever offered by our people to the white man. Perhaps we should have stuck with offering the Two Row to what and who we knew. How could our ancestors know these strangers to our shores would be incapable of genuinely living with respect for others?