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The History of the Two Row Wampum and Hiawatha Belt

With the popularity of the Thompson family came the rise of the modern game of lacrosse’s connection to its Native roots. Tim Weston of Blue Collar Lax uses the Thompson Lacrosse i6 head and Two Row Wampum Marc Mesh to illustrate lacrosse and Haudenosaunee history!

With the popularity of the Thompson family came the rise of the modern game of lacrosse’s connection to its Native roots. This year we got to see independent heads make their way to the market, one of which being the i6 from Thompson Lacrosse.

Most noticed right away the shapes on the sidewall of the i6 are the same that they saw adorned by the Iroquois Nationals in the World Lacrosse Championships this summer. Many of us without native ancestry were left with questions like, are they decorations or symbols? Why do they use purple so often? What’s up with those parallel lines we see associated with the Iroquois?


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I’m here to fill in the lacrosse world on part of this game’s great history and to pass on the symbols of peace and community that were first shared a couple hundred years ago!

The Two Row Wampum was a treaty between the First Nations and the Europeans settlers. The land, wisdom and Creator’s game was shared with the white settlers in good faith that we would respect it and cherish it as our own. To be able to truly love and respect lacrosse, you must know how this great game came to be.

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With the help of some of my Haudenoasunee friends, I would like to use the Thompson Lacrosse i6 head and our Two Row Wampum Marc Mesh to illustrate the history of the Hiawatha Belt and Two Row Wampum.

Two Row Wampum

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The Two Row Wampum Treaty, also known as Guswhenta, Kaswhenta, Tawagonshi Treaty, is an agreement said to have been made between representatives of the Haudenosaunnee Nation, commenly known as the Iroquois First Nations, and the Dutch Government in what is now upstate New York in 1613.

As was the custom of the First Nations, instead of journaling significant historical events they recorded the events of significance by making a Wampum belt. This Two Row Wampum treaty is considered the basis of all treaties by the Haudenosaunee people.

The Two Row Wampum is a foundational philosophical principle of a universal relationship of non-domination, balance and harmony between two parties.

The actual Wampum is made up almost entirely of beads and leather. The Wampum is adorned with two rows of perfectly parallel purple beads, one representing the First Nations birchbark canoe and the other representing a European ship and the paths both vessels are traveling.

It is a representation of the path both of these parties follow as they travel down the river of life. Neither boat interfering with the steering of the others laws, way of life and their customs. Harmoniously the boats travel side by side.

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The three white lines, also made up of beads, represents the purity of the agreement and the River of Life; they symbolize peace, friendship and respect. While it is the white what separates the two vessels, it is also what binds them together.

The treaty stresses a relationship where both parties are equal. The Haudenosaunee were not interested in entering into a relationship with a father and son dynamic, but with the Eurpoeans and Haudenosaunee as brothers.

In actuality the Two Row Wampum goes far beyond the treaty between two nations. To the people of the First Nations, it is a way of life and is the basis between a relationship amongst any two individual people and even our relationship with nature.

Of all the treaties I have ever come across, to me it truly is the greatest treaty. The Two Row Wampum is one in which both parties are equally represented; where both parties respect one another’s dignity, integrity and stresses the importance of allowing one to travel their own path without interference from the other.

The Two Row Wampum recognizes the interconnectedness of all things, and the need to maintain balance and harmony with the natural processes which make human life possible and stands in sharp contrast to the values of the capitalist economic system we live in today.

Hiawatha Belt

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Recognizable today as the Six Nations flag, the banner is named after the legendary Native American leader and cofounder of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Hiawatha lived between the 12th and 13th century and was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk or both. It is understood he was born Onondaga but adopted into the Mohawk but the story can be told through different eyes.

What is unanimous agreed upon is Hiawatha was a known follower of The Great Peacemaker. A Huron profit and spiritual leader who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples because of they shared a common ancestry and similar language.

The Great Peacemaker was known to have a severe speech impediment which in part prevented him from accomplishing his goals, however Hiawatha was a very charismatic skilled diplomat responsible for bringing the five nations together.

Flag

The prominent symbol in the middle represents a heart, or the Great Tree of Peace.

The Eastern White Pine represents the Tree of Peace in which weapons were often buried underneath between those agreeing to the treaty.

Hiawatha belt

The wampum itself has white beads representing the nations on a purple background which represents the sky and the universe.

First Nations

Map
Seneca – keepers of the Western door
Cayuga – people of the swamp
Onondaga – keepers of the fire
Oneida – people of the standing stone
Mohawk – keepers of the Eastern door

The squares represent a fort protected on all sides but are open in the center symbolizing an open heart and mind within.

All of the nations are connected by a white band that has no beginning or end. The white band connects the five nations and extends beyond the keepers of the Eastern and Western gate. This is symbolic of the path of peace that other nations are welcome to travel and take shelter beneath the Great Tree of Peace.

Note: After the original Wampum was made the Tuscarrora joined the Confederacy in 1622 to become the Sixth Nation.

Burying the Hatchet

If you are familiar with the term “buried the hatchet,” those words come from when this Confederacy was formed and symbolically they buried their hatchets on the shores of Onondaga Lake solidifying their peace with one another.

The Eastern White Pine was often uprooted enough to bury the weapons underneath in which the new tree on top would become a Tree of Peace.

It truly goes to show the very sophisticated yet simple diplomatic principles and how the indigenous people of the First Nations extended their hands in peace to the newcomers to their lands, and clearly shows they sought to improve their lives through trade and friendship.

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