Two Row Wampum Treaty

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A representation of the original Two Row Wampum treaty belt.
The Two Row Wampum is one of the oldest treaty relationships between the Onkwehonweh original people of Turtle Island North America and European immigrants. The treaty was made in 1613
Andy Mager, Hickory Edwards, Netherlands Consul Rob de Vos, Chief Jake Edwards and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons reaffirm the Two Row treaty

The Two Row Wampum Treaty, also known as Guswenta or Kaswhenta and as the Tawagonshi Agreement of 1613 or the Tawagonshi Treaty, is a mutual treaty agreement, made in 1613 between representatives of the Five Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) and representatives of the Dutch government in what is now upstate New York.[1] The agreement is considered by the Haudenosaunee to be the basis of all of their subsequent treaties with European and North American governments, and the citizens of those nations, including the Covenant Chain treaty with the British in 1677 and the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States in 1794.

The treaty is spiritually and culturally revered and widely accepted among the Indigenous peoples in the relevant territories, and documented by the wampum belts and oral tradition.[1] However, in more recent years the authenticity of the later, written versions of the agreement have been a source of debate, with some scholarly sources maintaining that a treaty between the Dutch and Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk Nation) did not take place or took place at a later date.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] In August 2013, the Journal of Early American History published a special issue dedicated to exploring the Two Row Tradition.[10]


Soon after Henry Hudson's 1609 exploration of the Hudson River and its estuary, traders from the United Provinces of the Netherlands set up factorijs (trading posts) to engage in the fur trade. At the time the Iroquois Mohawk and the Mahican territory abutted in the mid-Hudson Valley. The Dutch traded with the indigenous population to supply fur pelts particularly from beaver, which were abundant in the region. By 1614, the New Netherland Company was established and Fort Nassau was built, setting the stage for the development of the colony of New Netherland.[11]

The wampum[edit]

The 1613 agreement was recorded by the Haudenosaunee in a wampum belt known as the Two Row Wampum.[1] This wampum records the meaning of the agreement, which declared peaceful coexistence between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers in the area.[1] The pattern of the belt consists of two rows of purple wampum beads against a background of white beads.[1] The purple beads signify the courses of two vessels — a Haudenosaunee canoe and a European ship — traveling down the river of life together, parallel but never touching.[1] The three white stripes denote peace and friendship.

Haudenosaunee tradition also records the specific meaning of the belt as follows, in the form of a Haudenosaunee reply to the initial Dutch treaty proposal: "You say that you are our Father and I am your Son. We say 'We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers.' This wampum belt confirms our words. [...] Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel."[12]

The treaty is considered by Haudenosaunee people to still be in effect.[1] The Haudenosaunee tradition states "As long as the Sun shines upon this Earth, that is how long our [Two Row Wampum] Agreement will stand; Second, as long as the Water still flows; and Third, as long as the Grass Grows Green at a certain time of the year. Now we have Symbolized this Agreement and it shall be binding forever as long as Mother Earth is still in motion."[13]

The wampum of the pact is stored in Canada and in 2013 was presented in festivities along the Hudson River celebrating the 400th anniversary of the treaty.[14][15]

Historian Diana Muir Appelbaum wrote that "there is no evidence that such a thing as an “original” two-row wampum belt ever existed."[16]

Oral tradition[edit]

Onondaga leaders state that the oral tradition which accompanies the wampum belts is evidence that an agreement was made in 1613.[1] Andy Mager of the Syracuse Peace Council was quoted in The Post-Standard as saying “We believe the Haudenosaunee oral history of the treaty...We believe the basic outlines of a treaty and that a treaty was negotiated between representatives of the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee in or around 1613.”[1]

Interpretations of the treaty[edit]

Oren Lyons describes the Two Row Treaty at the UN, August 9, 2013.

The Netherlands have been called upon as allies by Haudenosaunee in international affairs, notably at the League of Nations in 1923 in a conflict with Canada over membership and at the United Nations in 1977, requesting the Haudenosaunee passport to be honored internationally. The Dutch government honored the passport until 2010. It remains unclear if the policy will be changed in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the treaty.[17] In September 2013, three Haudenosaunee leaders traveled to the Netherlands for an official visit in recognition of the anniversary, traveling on Haudenosaunee passports.[18][19]

The Two Row Wampum continues to play a role in defining the relationship between citizens of New York State and Haudenosaunee residents of the region. In 2006, a dispute over whether Onondaga Nation students could be permitted to wear native regalia at their graduation ceremony at Lafayette High School in LaFayette, New York, was resolved in part through the school board's consideration and application of the principles of the Two Row Wampum.[20]

Larger disputes concerning extant treaties based on the Two Row Wampum, such as the Treaty of Canandaigua, remain unresolved through litigation and pending land claims.

The Two Row Treaty contradicts the 15th Century papal Doctrine of Discovery, which decreed that Christian European nations could seize lands of non-Christian peoples whom they encountered in the New World. Modern legal rulings, including a 2005 decision by the US Supreme Court against Haudenosaunee plaintiffs, continue to hinge on that religious doctrine, and Two Row Treaty supporters promote the treaty as a legal standard to replace it.[21][22]

Supporters of the Two Row Wampum Treaty note that it conveys a respect for the laws of nature and thus an obligation for ecological stewardship. The treaty has been cited as an inspiration to clean up polluted waters such as Onondaga Lake and the Mohawk River. “Water is sacred, like all parts of creation,” said Freida Jacques, an Onondaga Clanmother. “All life relies on it. It has a sacred duty, given to it by the Creator, to give all creation clean, fresh water.” [23]

Controversial written document[edit]

The existence of an alleged written version of the treaty was first made public in an article in 1968 by documents collector L.G. van Loon.[1] He claimed to have acquired it from an unnamed person on the Mississaugua reserve[which?] in Canada.[1]

In 1987, academics Charles Gehring, William Starna, and William Fenton published an article in the New York History journal entitled “The Tawagonshi Treaty of 1613: The Final Chapter." Their theory is that this written version is a forgery because it contains what they argue are grammatical anachronisms; that a blend of handwriting styles from the 17th and 20th centuries is used; that the names of villages and not chiefs are used; and that the writing is "too smooth" to be made by a 17th-century quill pen.[1] Herkens writes that the document contains c. 40 grammatical anachronisms, and that on grammatical grounds it is likely that the text was written in the 20th century.[24] Given that Van Loon forged other pieces from the same period, they point to him as the most probable forger.[25][26]

Robert Venables, a retired Cornell University professor, is among those who remain convinced that the document version is also valid,[1] and concurs with other scholars who point out that any inconsistencies in language and pen strokes can be explained by the fact that it was copied by hand years after 1613.[1]

The document was given to the Onondagas and remains near Syracuse, New York.[1]

400th Anniversary Celebration[edit]

First paddlers arrive at Kanatsiohareke, with Sakokwenionkwas Tom Porter, July 2013.

In July and August 2013, hundreds of Native Americans and their allies took part in a river journey to recognize and renew the Two Row Wampum Treaty. Canoeing and kayaking across New York State, the participants called attention to the treaty and its significance for native land rights and environmental protection. The paddlers traveled from Onondaga, birthplace of the Haudenosaunee league, along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers to New York City, ending at a special session at the United Nations. The anniversary journey brought world attention to the Two Row Treaty.[23][27][28]

Organized by the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON), the renewal journey covered over 300 miles, with public events at sites including Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community, Albany, Poughkeepsie, and Beacon NY, where Native leaders and public officials discussed the treaty and its bearing on current issues. On August 9, the paddlers arrived in New York City to attend a UN session for Indigenous Peoples Day with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and member state representatives. At the session, UN officials underscored the UN’s role as a peacemaker, negotiator, and advocate for treaty rights. Oren Lyons, a diplomat from the Onondaga Turtle Clan, described the Two Row Treaty as the foundation for all Haudenosaunee treaties, many since broken by New York State, the US and Canada. UN representatives from Panama and Bolivia described their work to restore land to native ownership and protection. The UN Secretary for Human Rights outlined the UN’s goal to redress treaty violations, treat them as human rights violations, and help enforce treaties like the Two Row in the future.[29][30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Coin, Glenn (August 9, 2012). "400 years later, a legendary Iroquois treaty comes under attack". The Post-Standard. Retrieved 20 August 2013. If the paper treaty is fake, Starna said, so is the idea of any formal agreement made in 1613. 
  2. ^ Jennings, Francis (1995), The History And Culture Of Iroquois Diplomacy An Interdisciplinary Guide to the Treaties of the Six Nations and Their League, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 9780815626503 
  3. ^ Venables, Robert. "The 1613 Treaty" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  4. ^ Fenton, William Nelson (1998), The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 269, ISBN 0-8061-3003-2 
  5. ^ Benjamin, Vernon (2000). "The Tawagonshi Agreement of 1613 A Chain of Friendship in the Dutch Hudson Valley". Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  6. ^ Venables, Robert W. (September 2012). "An Analysis of the 1613 Tawagonshi Treaty". Onondaga Nation. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  7. ^ Coin, Glenn (August 9, 2012). "400 years later, a legendary Iroquois treaty comes under attack". The Post-Standard. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  8. ^ Van der Sijs, Nicoline (August 2012), "'De laatste spreker van Low Dutch' L.G. van Loon vervalste de geschiedenis van het Nederlands in Amerika (The last speaker of Low Dutch LG van Loon LG falsified the history of the Dutch in America)" (PDF), Onze Taal 
  9. ^ Gehring, Charles T.; Starna, William A. (2012). "Revisiting the Fake Tawagonshi Treaty of 1613" (PDF). New York State Historial Society. Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  10. ^ Various authors (2013). "Special Issue: Early Iroquoian-European Contacts: The Kaswentha Tradition, the Two Row Wampum Belt, and the Tawagonshi Document, 2013". Journal of Early American HIstory. 3. ISSN 1877-0223. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  11. ^ Gehring, Charles T. (2009), "Dutch and Indians in the Hudson Valley: The Early Period", America's First River The History and Culture of the Hudson River Valley, SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-615-30829-6  |first2= missing |last2= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ James Wilson (March 2000). The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America. Grove / Atlantic Incorporated. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-8021-3680-0. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  13. ^ David Blanchard (1980). Seven generations: a history of the Kanienkehaka. Kahnawake Survival School. p. 124. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "NY scholars claim Indian treaty document is fake". The Wall Street Journal. January 1, 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  15. ^ Koch, Ingmar (August 23, 2012). "Vals of echt? De wampum bewijst het. (Fake or real? The wampum proves it.)". Ingmar bladert en schrijft. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  16. ^ DIANA MUIR APPELBAUM (2 January 2018). "Who's Afraid of the Museum of the Bible?". Mosaic (magazine). Retrieved 2 August 2018. there is no evidence that such a thing as an “original” two-row wampum belt ever existed. Nor is there any evidence of the existence of a 1613 treaty beyond a claim traceable to a document forged in the 1960s by a historian who collected and wrote about old manuscripts. But to know this, you have to have read the Journal of Early American History. At the Smithsonian, the 1613 treaty is presented simply as fact, and you will need to search hard to find a critic holding the museum to account for its misleading presentation. 
  17. ^ Wiemers, Serv (January 3, 2013). "De Indianen rekenen terecht op Nederland (The Indians rightly count on the Netherlands)". De Volkskrant. Amsterdam. 
  18. ^ "Netherlands celebrates ties with Iroquois" Two Row Times, November 2, 2013
  19. ^ Deer, Kenneth "Haudenosaunee Renew Two Row Wampum With Dutch" Indian Country Today, October 6, 2013
  20. ^ Syracuse Post-Standard, May 18, 2006
  21. ^ Brown, Stephen Rex "Native Americans to new Pope: Recant the ‘Discovery Doctrine,’ which gave Catholics dominion over New World", New York Daily News, March 13, 2013
  22. ^ Venables, Robert, "An Analysis of the 1613 Tawagonshi Treaty", 2012.
  23. ^ a b Gadoua, Renee K. "Anniversary recalls water as sacred source of life" Washington Post, July 31, 2013
  24. ^ Hermkens, Harrie; Noordegraaf, Jan; Sijs, Nicolien van der (2013). "Tawagonshi-verdrag is vervalst (Tawagonshi-treaty has been forged)" (PDF). Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  25. ^ Sijs, Nicolien van der (2009) Cookies, coleslaw, and Stoops. The influence of Dutch on the North American languages Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp.22-23
  26. ^ Appelbaum, Diana Muir (27 March 2017). "Museum Time". The New Rambler. Retrieved 27 March 2017. 
  27. ^ "Indianen vieren 400-jarig verdrag met Nederlanders" RTL News, Amsterdam
  28. ^ Taub, Julian "The Iroquois are not Giving Up" Atlantic Magazine, August 13, 2013
  29. ^ Fox, Katsitsionni "Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign Completes Journey to United Nations" Indian Time, August 22, 2013
  30. ^ Gorgen, Paul "Canoe Journey helps Renew the Two Row Wampum Treaty" Vassar Miscellany News, February 14, 2014
  31. ^ "Indigenous canoe trip celebrating 400-year-old peace treaty culminates with UN event" United Nations News Centre, August 9, 2013

Further reading[edit]

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