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Canoeists row along Mohawk to mark Dutch-Indian treaty

Mabee Farm event to celebrate accord of 400 years ago

Saturday, July 6, 2013
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Hickory Edwards of the Onondaga Turtle Clan works on the canoe he built to participate in the Two Row Wampum Treaty Campaign, which stops at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction next Saturday.
Hickory Edwards of the Onondaga Turtle Clan works on the canoe he built to participate in the Two Row Wampum Treaty Campaign, which stops at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction next Saturday.

Local history buffs like to point out that the Mabee Farm, with what is generally recognized as the oldest house in the Mohawk Valley, never came under Indian attack.

It’s a testament to a long and peaceful relationship between the Europeans who settled this part of the “New World” in the 17th century and the indigenous peoples who were here before them.

With that kind of history, The Mabee Farm is also a perfect spot to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of the 1613 Two Row Wampum Treaty, an agreement encouraging the idea of friendship, peace and “living in parallel in perpetuity” between members of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Dutch living in upstate New York.

The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign is being highlighted by a canoe trip that began last Sunday in the Syracuse area on Onondaga Creek and will end on Aug. 9 in New York City. Members of the Onondaga Nation as well as the other five Iroquois nations (Cayuga, Tuscarora, Oneida, Seneca and Mohawk) are making the trip east on the Mohawk River and then South on the Hudson along with friends and other supporters to bring attention to the 400-year-old pact.

‘Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign’

WHERE: Mabee Farm, 1080 Main St., Rotterdam Junction

WHEN: Noon-7 p.m., Saturday, July 13

HOW MUCH: Admission is free; celebration dinner is $15

MORE INFO: 887-5073, www.tworowschenectady.org

“My great-, great-, great- and greater-grandfathers made an agreement with the people who came here, and it’s my duty to uphold this agreement and see what I can do to help it along,” said Onondaga Nation member Hickory Edwards, who is leading the canoe trip. “We are trying to heal the relationship between our people by remembering this treaty and educating people about it.”

The Two Row campaign was begun by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation and its umbrella group, the Syracuse Peace Council, an antiwar/social justice organization founded in 1936.

“We’ve been talking about this for a little over two years now, trying to come up with a way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of this very important treaty,” said Andy Mager, who serves as coordinator for both NOON and the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.

“I’ve worked with the Onondaga Nation for the past 13 years or so, and one of our jobs is to help educate people in the community about the history of the relationship between our people. We feel like we owe a debt to the Onondaga people, the Haudenosaunee people and the Native Americans in general.”

What began as a project between NOON and the Onondaga Nation quickly grew to include the other five Indian nations as well as several municipalities and historic sites along the Mohawk and Hudson waterway.

“They got it started,” said Edwards, referring to NOON, “and then we jumped right on. We wanted to go down the river in peace to bring attention to the treaty, and now we have members from all the Haudenosaunee people involved and a large group of white people who will be coming along with us in canoes and kayaks.”

Blurred history

The history behind the Two Row Wampum Treaty is a little bit hazy for some. A document that supposedly authenticated it has been declared a fake by members of the academic world and other scholars, but that doesn’t concern Mager.

“It’s a shame that a couple of people decided to undermine what we’re doing here, but whether or not this particular document is fake or authentic is irrelevant,” he said.

“The message of the treaty is based on the oral tradition of the Haudenosaunee people, and that tradition is supported by a variety of other historical documentation. What’s important is the concept. If there was a document, the Haudenosaunee didn’t care about that. They said, ‘Fine, you have your paper, we’ll string the message onto a wampum belt.’ ”

According to Edwards, the actual wampum belt is at the Six Nations Community of the Grand River Territory in Ontario.

“It’s not writing, but it is two rows of purple upon a field of white,” said Edwards, describing the belt. “The one purple row represents the white people and their ways and customs, and the second purple row represents the Haudenosaunee and their ways and customs. There is a starting point, but the two rows go off the one side of the belt, signifying that the agreement will last forever, as long as the water still flows, as long as the green grass grows and as long as there is mother earth.”

The belt is about 6 feet long, and the two purple rows are separated by three beads that signified a silver chain with links for peace, friendship and forever.

Accord is real

Schenectady native Dave Cornelius, a local historian of Mohawk and Mahican descent, agrees that the Van Loon Document — the piece of paper documenting the 1613 treaty — is a fake, but that doesn’t mean that the Indians and the Dutch didn’t enter into some kind of agreement 400 years ago.

“The Mohawks and all of the Indians wanted access to trade goods,” said Cornelius, who has nearly completed his master’s degree in anthropology from Empire State College.

“If it wasn’t an actual treaty, it was some kind of understanding, an understanding that said we are separate; the two rows, and we live parallel to each other. We don’t interfere with each other. We should remain separate, but close enough to be friends and be helpful and respectful toward each other.”

Cornelius, who regularly gives presentations at the Mabee Farm, will be there next Saturday to help welcome the paddlers on their trip downriver.

“I’m going to be talking about the conditions in this area in 1613, giving people an idea of what it was like,” he said. “I think anything like this, anything that puts the Native Americans out there, is very valuable. It’s a way of remembering us. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re still here.’ ”

Send-off planned

Lori Quigley, a member of the Seneca Nation from western New York, is professor and dean of the Esteves School of Education for the Sage Colleges. She and Russell Sage in Troy will host a send-off celebration July 28 as the paddlers leave the Albany area and begin their 13-day trip down the Hudson River to New York City.

“I believe in the concept of the renewal campaign, but I wouldn’t call it a treaty,” said Quigley, who also serves on the board at the Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave.

“I believe it was an agreement to share the land between the Dutch and the Indians and to live side by side. We extended our hand in friendship to the Dutch when they first came to the land, and that was an extreme act of kindness and caring. That’s the bigger idea we’re focusing on — caring for each other and the environment.”

Events scheduled

The July 13 program at the Mabee Farm, owned and operated by the Schenectady County Historical Society, begins at noon and will conclude at 7 p.m. Along with Cornelius, Kay Olan and Melinda Perrin, other storytellers and historians will make various presentations, while live music will be offered by George Ward, John Roberts, Three Quarters North and Everest Rising.

At 3 p.m., all activities will be put on hold because of the expected arrival of the Two Row paddlers. A celebration dinner will be held at 5 and a closing ceremony is scheduled for 6:45.

Most of the paddlers will spend the night camping at the Mabee Farm, which was built around 1705.

“I’m hoping my dugout canoe can travel the full distance,” said Edwards, who spent much of the last year building his Onondaga-style boat. “We’ll have to see how it goes. We’ve had it under water, had a few leaks, and we fixed it.”

Most of the paddlers will be taking a break after the Onondaga-to-Schenectady portion of the trip, and will return to their boats on July 28 in Troy for the journey to New York.

“We’ve timed it so we will arrive in New York City at the United Nations on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples,” said Mager. “We expect to have a core group of paddlers that will make the entire trip, and then we’ll have plenty of others who will join us in their canoes and kayaks for certain sections of the trip.”

 
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