Hickory Edwards: Onondaga's Perpetual Paddler

People of the Two Row

From the February 2013 PNL #821

by Emily Bishop

Editors’ note: In support of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign’s kickoff event this month, the PNL presents an extended installment of a new column, People of the Two Row. Emily Bishop will introduce Onondaga Nation members integral to the Two Row Campaign. The column will continue through the Symbolic Enactment this summer, where Haudenosaunee and allies will paddle down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City in two rows to honor the historical treaties between our peoples. The campaign is being carried out as a partnership between NOON/SPC and the Onondaga Nation. We hope you enjoy this glimpse of the work the Onondaga are doing on this powerful campaign!

Walking into the Onondaga Workshop for the first time, I peek into the rooms around me, hearing sounds of chatter and a chainsaw. I’m given directions to Hickory Edward’s space and find him surrounded by river maps that cover all four sides of his cubicle. As the Paddling Coordinator, Hickory is responsible for helping to coordinate the route, paddling practice, and safety courses for those participating in the Symbolic Enactment this summer. He is also the leader of the Onondaga Canoe and Kayak Club, organizing trips for Onondaga youth groups and clearing out the waterways to make for smooth paddling.

Hickory kayaks on the Hudson with his dog
Larry. Photo: Poody Edwards

From Onondaga Creek to New York City, Hickory shows me the path of his journey from the beginning of July to the middle of August. He expects to have at least one person from each of the Six Nations paddle with him from Onondaga to Albany, carrying a replica of the Two Row Wampum Belt. For Hickory, “If we are going down the Hudson to New York City on the water trail, we might as well bring it from the central fire of the Haudenosaunee to Albany by way of the ancient water trade routes of our people.”

The Onondaga describe the Two Row as an agreement about how we are to “live together. Each of our ways will be shown in the purple rows running the length of the belt. In one row is a ship with our White Brother’s ways, in the other a canoe with our ways. Each will travel down the river of life side by side. Neither will attempt to steer the other’s vessel.” The  Two Row Campaign seeks to bring this 400-year-old agreement to life as we address issues such as the Onondaga Land Rights Action and hydrofracking.

Hickory started paddling with his cousins five years ago out of boredom. It has since become his calling. Showing me his thumb, he says, “There is a paddle right in the center of my fingerprint, so I’m pretty sure I’m made for this.” He started that day and never stopped: “I was on the water every day after that, going further and further out, doing 150 mile trips.”  Hickory takes advantage of every opportunity to get on the water, having paddled between 1100 and 1500 miles since he began.

Hickory was on the water when his uncle, Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs, asked if he wanted to join the Two Row Campaign to help organize the paddling. “They knew I was going on long distance trips when they asked me to be paddling coordinator only two days before the first trial run [July 2011],” says Hickory. That weekend he was paddling down the Hudson to explore the feasibility of a larger trek.

Hickory and his guitar. Photo:
Suzanne Halbritter

“I didn’t realize the project would be so big. Now that other Haudenosaunee nations are aligning with the campaign, I’ve taken on the responsibility of being in touch and inviting them to join us, even beyond the Symbolic Enactment.” Hickory also has ideas for future paddling trips to educate allies. He’d like to share “all the things that aren’t archived in history books, from Onondaga perspective, legends of our Haudenosaunee people.”

After being distracted by overhearing someone talk about paddling, Hickory tells me what the Two Row Campaign means to his generation and those that follow. “It’s important for us to step up and say something because people who aren’t born yet are affected by what we do in our lifetime. So, I think that getting anything done for their good is a great thing, and I’m happy to be a part of this and do what I can for them, long after I’m gone. Now is the time for our voices to be heard, for faces that aren’t here yet. Everything we do affects the seventh generation and we have to use our voice in a positive way for them.”

For information about applying to participate, paddling practice and trips leading up to the Symbolic Enactment, or other events, check out the “events” section at www.HonorTheTwoRow.org.

Emily is from Syracuse and is interning with the Two Row Campaign, working on the enactment, grant writing and publicity.