It is indeed a contradiction that there are people who say to me that they were not aware of Canada’s genocidal history, and not aware of what is currently happening to Indigenous nations through genocidal laws and policy; yet these same people promote “freedom of speech,” “freedom of thought,” “self-determination,” and “free choice”. One would think that it would be obvious that these people’s thoughts were and remain shaped by essentialist understandings of what is Canada, a country that relies on oppressive power.
Morals Must Mediate; Not Oppressive Power
“Freedom of speech,” “freedom of thought”, “self-determination,” and “free choice” must not be understood in reductionistic or essentialistic terms. All are a relationship where morals must mediate all we do.
What Can the Two Row Wampum Belt Teach Us?
While many people understand wampum diplomacy as strictly a Haudenosaunee governance tradition, wampum diplomacy far exceeds this confederacy. Many Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island, such as the Algonquin, Ojibwa, Wendat (Huron), Mi’kmaq, and the Wampanoag, engage in aspects of wampum diplomacy. The white and purple beads continue to be crafted out of quahog and whelk shells farmed from what is now called the Atlantic Ocean and then woven into belts of deep significant guiding meaning.
The most well-known wampum belt is the Two Row Wampum Belt. According to the historical record the first time the Two Row Wampum Belt was exchanged was in 1613 between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch as settlers were moving into Mohawk territory.
While this is what the historical record informs us of, there is the need for critical thinking regarding the written record as it is only one source of knowledge. Certainly wampum diplomacy pre-existed settler people, and as such it is more likely than not that the Two Row Wampum Belt was exchanged between Indigenous Nations prior to this time.
My purpose here is not to criticize but rather to point out that many Indigenous Nations engaged in the tradition of wampum diplomacy. I am also motivated to point out that the deep and guiding meaning codified in the Two Row Wampum Belt is significant to many people. This broader scope of meaning is important to value. Interestingly, the Two Row Wampum Belt is becoming an international symbol in understanding the nature of the relationship between Indigenous nations.
A Non-Interfering Relationship
At its essence, the Two Row Wampum Belt codifies a moral code. The Two Row Wampum Belt represents a non-interference relationship between nations; a relationship that values the sovereignty of each nation and their members; a relationship that values that each nation has its own governance traditions that need to be valued and respected for the good life that they manifest. These governance traditions include such entities as sacred items and knowledge such as songs and rituals, jurisprudence, medicine, education, and knowledge philosophy. These governance traditions must not be interfered with in oppressive and subjugated ways. Rather, a moral code must mediate. While I value that there is a diversity of moral codes out there, we have been gifted with reason to help us sort out this diversity.
Knowledge is a Relationship and a Responsibility
The Two Row Wampum Belt, like many entities, is a responsibility that is to be valued, lived, and shared with family and community members. In the Indigenous knowledge tradition it is appreciated that knowledge is foremost a relationship that needs to be respected. Respect in this context means it is up to the learner to take responsibility to take their own journey to learning more.