A canoe and a sail boat sail parallel. Parallel lines never touch. They exist harmoniously. This was the basis for the two row treaty, the first treaty between the indigenous peoples of North America and the Europeans. When the Europeans (at this time it was the Dutch) came from the east, with their different language, culture, and ways, the native people saw that their ways were different and often conflicting from their own ways but recognized that they were still people and so sought a way to live harmoniously with them. Talks between the Europeans and the natives led to an agreement. The Europeans recorded it on paper. The native people used their own way to record the treaty; wampum beads, made from quahog shells. These beads were used by the native people for identification, to record events, and to carry messages. So the treaty was made into a wampum belt. On this belt were two parallel rows of purple beads to symbolize the native’s canoe and the european’s sailboat running parallel forever. In between these two purple rows, each two beads thick, was a row of white beads, three beads thick, for peace, friendship, and forever. The white beads represent truth. And so, in a white sea of truth, both sides agreed to travel down the road of life in peace and harmony with each other and all other beings on the planet. They pledged to not interfere with each other’s affairs and to take not more then they needed, leaving enough for the other and for the next seven generations. This treaty was to be forever. Or as the natives say, “as long as the grass grows green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” And indeed, the grass still grows green, the water stills flows down, and the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. And the wampum belt still exists, as testimony to this treaty, while the piece of paper has long been lost or destroyed. But the europeans have violated this treaty many times, passing laws to try and change the native people, what they are, and how they conduct their spiritual, political, and everyday lives.
As 2013 marks the 400 year anniversary of the two row treaty the indigenous people and their allies are calling for this treaty to be honored as we move forward. We are asking to work towards an existence that leaves enough for others and for the next seven generations. An existence that does not interfere with the existence of other beings but lives harmoniously side by side. Is this not something we can all work towards? Is it not something that will lead to a better future for all our grandchildren?
This is what I came to realize over the last three days, as I walked and paddled with native people and allies from stuart park in Ithaca, NY to S.H.A.R.E. farm in Springport, NY, about 30 miles north of Ithaca. This is not just about the struggle of indigenous people. This is all of our struggle. This is about our earth and our children. Corporations are destroying the earth that we all live on through fracking, mining, and consuming and they are doing it in our name. As the saying goes, perhaps you could stand by when they took the land from the Indians because that was not you. And perhaps you could stand by as they dumped toxic waste in the black ghettos because that was not you. But soon they will come for you and there will be no one left. Everyone suffers when clean drinking water is polluted. Everyone suffers when our food contains poisons. So really, we should all be joining this fight and demand that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that grows our food be sacred. This is not their struggle. It is our struggle. Already we are becoming victims to what we have helped create. Our taxes support practices we do not support. Our corporations have been elevated to the level of nations and exploit our resources with no consideration to the well being of future generations. And they do it in our name.
And so it felt so right to walk on the land and paddle across cayuga waters for three days and three nights learning about, spreading awareness around, and living the way of the two row wampum treaty. And the plants and animals seemed to agree. Three blue herons flew over us as we paddled the first day. And two foxes ran along the edge of the railroad tracks. Sitting on a rock on the water, Craig, a young Diné (Navajo) man played his wooden flute into the sunset our first night at Myers point. Little ducklings came, mama duck in tow, to swim around his rock. Walking through farm land the second day horses came, drawn to our drum and song, and then began to gallup in an earth-wise circle. Three baby colts and a half dozen or so full grown horses galloped and galloped in a circle, dancing for us. None of us had ever seen anything like it. The cows on the farms stood at attention and watched us, every single one of them following us with their big brown eyes, saluting our cause it seemed. The animals were saying yes. This is right. Walk together. Paddle together. For peace and harmony.
There, in the context of peaceful, slow travel, magic happens. A Magic that leads to spontaneous music and dance in front of strangers in the evening. A Magic that leads to hard but necessary conversations as people open their homes and sacred spaces to us travelers of peace. A magic that leads to the opening of hearts and minds.
And so the two row wampum renewal campaign is about beginning that healing through conversations and awareness so that we can find ways to walk side by side as brothers and sisters. And for myself, I will say this walk has helped me learn how to better do that. I feel I have begun to form the friendships, knowledge, and vocabulary to seek my place in this struggle. And the fears that acted as fences between people with difference begin to dissolve. Another magic that happens when you travel slowly with people.
July 27th through August 10th over 400 people will be paddling and walking from albany to the United Nations headquarters in New York City by way of the Hudson river. They will be caring the same message we carried on this three day walk: a message of peace, asking that we all work together to take care of this earth. At the same time, a group will gather in Washington, DC on July 13th and leave July 15th to walk across the nation, arriving in Alcatraz, CA on December 22nd to complete the 4th longest walk. The first one was in 1978 to call attention to legislation that was trying to be pushed through congress that would greatly restrict the lives of native americans. These pieces of legislation were dropped. In 2008 the 2nd longest walk took place to call attention to indigenous sacred sites. And in 2011 was the 3rd walk to reverse diabetes. This 4th walk is to take the medicine back home. The last three walks have been from the west coast to D.C., carrying messages out, to the rest of the world. This walk will begin in DC and travel back across the original route taken in 1978, taking the medicine home back to native peoples.
If you can, join one of these two momentous events. Even if only for a day. Go out and support the travelers as they pass through your area. Offer them food, water, shelter. All will be appreciated.