The Two Row Wampum Renewel Campaign was the 2013 observance of the 400th anniversary of the signing of the original treaty between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Dutch. We all know how that turned out, but at the very least, the Mohawk and the Ramapaugh First Peoples retain their lands. The Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee are the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca people. I was coordinator for the Beacon festival. A group of paddlers in canoes started a thirteen day trip in Troy, New York on the Mohawk River paddling to the Hudson and down to Manhattan and marched across town to the United Nations for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. America walked out.
The wampum belt, the symbol of the treaty, signifies the First Peoples and the Dutch traveling through life together without interfering with one another. We had no idea what we were organizing so when I sat down at 2:00pm at the festival and the Dakota Riders arrived on horseback, it was only then I realized what we had done. My ancestry is Arawak/Caribe and I heard my ancestors whoop in that moment. I ran along the shore calling out to the paddlers as they arrived, hearing response on the wind.
Artists were commissioned to produce totems for the event and I realized too late that I could have made a totem.
Dare I say Two Row planted a seed that lead to Standing Rock and now the Ramapough Sweet Water Prayer Camp. The work continues and our organization, Neetopk Keetopk (www.neetopkkeetopk.org) was born out of Two Row providing indigenous education ever since. I couldn’t create a totem, but I did sit down and sketch in my newsprint pad.
Our original art were cave paintings, pottery and weaving - sewing our clothes possibly with Honey Locust needles. I reach back and touch my ancestors to engage my creative self off the page and written word to imagery, symbolism.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is the now well known protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, an oil pipeline that travels 1,172 miles underground from North Dakota to Illinois where it connects to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline which travels from Illinois to Texas. Once again America reneges on its treaty and the pipeline runs through the the Standing Rock Reservation water supply. Of course the concern are oil spills which will damage the drinking water and of course the pipeline leaked immediately. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues their protest.
I had gotten this far six years ago. I decided to finish now. It is oil pastels. I felt the paddle charged with energy and wanted to represent motion with urgency on the page. Fierce tribal mission, purpose moving down the rivers, the land holding Spirit as the journey unfolded.
The European has the audacity to declare it illegal to be, denying peoples for centuries, their language and culture. What happened to this upstart late to world civilization? Do we look back to Pangaea and continental divide to teach us of the trauma plaguing this human. If Africa is the cradle of civilization what face did the move take that pushed this human up and out of the bosom of Mother into the cold, dank, famine of Europe. Were we guilty of genocide, border patrols, rape and murder in creation of that Great Migration? Did we forsake our sisters and brothers and chase them out? Can we have these conversations? Is it the nature of the beast? As we bow to the shifting world and watch Mother dance, can we apologize, can we ask forgiveness? Can we infuse the collective consciousness with joy, love and peace and take hands and walk into the future together? Yes, we can. It is not easy. It is a fight, but we can do it.