From St. Marie Among the Iroquois to the Two Row

People of the Two Row

From the April 2013 PNL #823

by Emily Bishop

Allison Smith is a leader for boy scouts and other youth groups in the Syracuse area as well as a member of the enactment committee for the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. This campaign is a collaborative effort between Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation and the Onondaga Nation which aims to honor native treaties and protect the earth. Her responsibilities include obtaining permits for camping for five sites along the Hudson.

Allison Smith staffs an information table at the Two Row
Kickoff event at Syracuse Stage, February 11, 2013.
Photo: Tania Barricklo

When I asked Allison Smith to interview for this article, I thought that she was from Onondaga. However, Allison’s heritage stems from the Barbados with a lineage from the Cayuga, Algonquin (who were the first slaves of Barbados) and the Africans of Barbados. Growing up with a mixed family, she felt she had to hide her heritage to avoid the discrimination experienced by her other family members.  While her Mother is Cayuga, Allison says, “I remember growing up and nobody talked about native culture.” I asked Allison how she felt working alongside people of the Onondaga and how she identified as a Native American. She said: “I realize I’m not an Onondaga and never will be. I don’t know their culture and I’m not part of their tight community. I realized that when I walked into the meeting for the first time and realized what community they have here. I’m an ally, and I can identify with what they are going through.”

Allison became involved with education around indigenous issues as a member of St. Marie among the Iroquois, a museum of the Jesuit French mission that aimed to make relations with the Haudenosaunee in the 1600’s. She hosted museum tours for schools and people from all over the world that were interested in the rich native culture that New York holds. Allison says, “It became a place of diversity. I had kids that worked there from all different countries that needed jobs in Syracuse. We would have great conversation just because of the nature of the place and I learned how to help kids navigate and appreciate their identities.” From her 9 years of experience there, she developed relationships with the Onondaga and with allies from Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation. After the museum shut down in 2012, the Two Row Renewal Campaign became a way for her to continue her work in cultural diversity.

Allison spoke of appreciating the ways of the Onondaga. “They carry all their traditions and ceremonies. It’s very special and they have maintained their ways, their culture, their language. Also, I’m not trying to be them. I’m trying to be with them. It’s hard to put into words. I feel they are my friends. I feel we have the same the goal that is present in the Two Row Wampum.” This addresses an important issue in cultural understanding and community building between the Onondaga/Haudenosaunee people and their allies. It is about appreciating, not appropriating.  Through appreciation and understanding, Allison believes that those working to spread the message of the Two Row Wampum can touch people, even awaken them, to the change that is necessary to protect our environment.

When asked how allies can be a part of community building along with the Onondaga and other Haudenosaunee, she responded, “Be a part of the goal—to understand that we are all in this together. I’m hoping the campaign opens doors for people to listen to what really needs to be done environmentally and respecting the Nations as such. And listening. I hope those who are hearing the message that is spread bring in more allies to understand the message that we’ve forgotten that the Onondaga have held on to for us.”

Emily, born in Syracuse, is an intern with the Two Row Campaign working on the enactment, grant-writing and publicity.