The Two Row: A Mutually Rewarding Relationship

From the June 2013 PNL #825

by Freida Jacques

The purpose of the Two Row Renewal Campaign is to help the Citizens of NYS realize that we the people of the Haudenosaunee and specifically the Onondaga Nation can have a mutually rewarding relationship. This relation based on respect for each of our cultures, our governments, our spiritual ways. This concept reflected by the two purple lines of wampum against the white wampum beads.  The white being the river of Life, which we both depend. This campaign includes the reminder that those Nations that agreed to the Two Row also agreed to take care of the environment that we depend on to have a healthy life.

Over time our leaders of the Haudenosaunee would bring out the Two Row and present the concepts to those new peoples arriving on our lands. The Dutch were the first, followed by the French, English and German. Eventually, the people from European backgrounds began to refer to the three wampum beads in the middle of the Two Row as the Covenant Chain. Often over time our two Peoples would “Polish the Chain” of friendship between us.

Unfortunately, there was very fleeting sincerity in this agreement from the settler peoples. We went through many years where we were under persecution. Laws were made against our ways of spirituality.

In 1779 General George Washington sent soldiers to ambush our villages to destroy us, because of the misconception of the Haudenosaunee siding with the British. Lands were taken to pay debts to soldiers of the American Revolution. In 1794 when George Washington was President he made promises in the Canandaigua Treaty (this treaty was ratified by Congress) that our lands and people would be protected. This did not last long.

Later our children were taken to Boarding Schools so that they could be influenced only by the European/American culture, education, and discipline and values. This was a very devastating time in our history. Many years went by where we were seen as the “Indian Problem.” Folks came to help and direct our lives but in condescending ways. Schools were vehicles of cultural change and indoctrination. We were told we would die off and the message we received was that we were being “wished away.” Fortunately and miraculously we have survived these and many more attempts to diminish us.

The Two Row Wampum principles can be seen in many modern day relationships. I have been fortunate to be involved in several, a couple I will mention here:

I have been fortunate enough to have worked with friends from Neighbors of Onondaga Nation (NOON). They are a support group for Onondaga Nation. They are people from near and around Syracuse who saw the need to help educate their own people about Onondaga. Feelings of prejudice and malice were provoked during the time of the Oneida and Cayuga land claims and they wanted the citizens of CNY to understand and gain knowledge about Onondaga before this negative kind of reaction took place during Onondaga’s Land Rights Action. They have always been respectful of our opinions, suggestions, and input. The never imposed their decisions on us. They are a wonderful modern day example of the Two Row in action.

I have been proud to be involved in the Friendship Garden that some of us from Onondaga and some folks from NOON work on for the past 5 years.  It is a wonderful example of folks from each Culture working together, each adding their skills and gifts to the mix. Decisions are made in cooperation with each other, knowledge is shared and explored. Even though so far the best we accomplish are “covered dish suppers,” it has been a rewarding and life affirming adventure.

The basic relationship conveyed in the Two Row is one that would help any group survive and keep strong relationships between each other. As in many of our governmental structures and tenets these concepts of mutual respect and love of environment, are wise and embedded in the desire to promote Peace. Wouldn’t it be life affirming to realize this kind of relationship today, for our common future?