Nearly 400 years ago the early European colonists who settled in the wilderness territory of what has now become upstate New York negotiated for peace with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a league of indigenous Native American nations more commonly known as the Iroquois. The result was the first of many treaties between the two peoples establishing an agreement of sovereignty and peace. It was codified on paper by the American settlers at the time and recorded by the Indians as was their custom in wampum, a two-row pattern, ceremonial bead-work belt, a commemoration of the treaty settlement. The terms of the treaty were repeatedly violated by the white man, of course as they have with nearly all other treaties they signed with the Indians. The Native tribes however kept sacred the wampum which was their record of their contract with the white man and passed the historical artifact down through centuries, generation after generation.
On March 12th, 2013 more than 350 people filled the halls of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City for the launch of the Two-Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. In what some would call a largely symbolic action, the event featured Onondaga Nation lawyer Tonya Gonella Frichner, Syracuse peace-activist Andy Mager, legendary folk-singer Pete Seeger, and Onondaga faith-keeper and long-time Indian-rights leader Oren Lyons, who exhibited the original treaty wampum handed down through time to serve as proof of the age-old agreements. “You write your records, and when you lose them, you come back to us and we’ll have the belt,” Lyons said. “This belt is a covenant between two peoples… and if your leaders want to ignore it, you can’t.” Onondaga Chief Jake Edwards said the treaties should have been honored 400 years ago: “Our environment wouldn’t be in the bad shape it is if we paid attention to the original agreements.”
The purpose of the campaign is to call attention to the popular protest against hydro-fracking, the controversial method for extracting natural gas from rock strata, deep underground using a high-pressure injection of a variety of dangerous chemicals known to cause cancer. Widely believed to be responsible for the contamination of ground-water, the future of the technology is under consideration by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to decide whether to permit fracking in New York’s Southern Tier, a region in the Onondaga’s traditional homeland and close to their reservation near Syracuse. “If there’s the possibility of you, me, or anyone else contaminating one drop of water, then we’re doing wrong,” Edwards said. “Don’t hydro-frack. Its a no-brainer.” Whether or not the campaign will motivate widespread protest to stop the petro-chemical companies from contaminating the aquifers of upstate New York, the action is hoped to influence the decision of the Governor to a positive outcome for both Natives and New York residents alike.
(c) March 30th, 2013 – Bethany Ariel Frasier