Hiawatha Wampum belt
Explaining the Hiawatha Wampum belt.

Much of the work that we do in Adirondack Mountain Club’s Advocacy Office focuses on monitoring the actions of government in the context of laws and regulations established by New York State and by the federal government. We also consider and analyze the impact of our society and its behavior resulting from policy (or lack thereof) on the landscape, specifically on public lands and waterways. It is critical to remember that long before our state and federal governments were established, there were, and continue to be, older governments and societies that interacted sustainably for thousands of years with the same landscape that we currently share. In fulfilling our mission to protect public land and to interact responsibly with the earth, it is essential that we understand and maintain friendship with elder nations and governments, and respect our parallel paths together.


November 11, 2014 marked the 220th year of the Canandaigua Treaty, which was signed in 1794 by United States representative Colonel Timothy Pickering, and leaders of the Haudenosaunee Nations: the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. The Canandaigua Treaty established peace, friendship, and respect between the Nations and the United States. Each year leaders of these Sovereign Nations and others remembering and honoring the treaty meet at the original site of the treaty’s signing, a place called Council Rock.  Council Rock sits on the front lawn of the Ontario County Courthouse on Main Street in Canandaigua, NY. The treaty brought about peace between the Haudenosaunee Nations and the United States, and “recognized the sovereignty of the Nations to govern and set laws as individual nations.”  In the image above Peter Jemison site manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, explains the history and context of the treaty signing to those assembled at the Council Rock. The Friends of Ganondagan, a non-profit group, organizes the treaty day each year.

Gathering at Council Rock
Gathering at Council Rock

The annual meeting in Canandaigua, NY follows the counsel of the renowned Seneca Chief Red Jacket, a Haudenosaunee leader present at the treaty signing in 1794, who explained that the “business of this treaty is to brighten [polish or care for] the chain of friendship.”[The links of a chain can become deteriorated by neglect over time. The “chain of friendship” is illustrated in a wampum belt presented at the 1794 treaty signing to the Haudenosaunee Nations on behalf of George Washington and the United States (see image below). A wampum belt is a wide patterned belt made from a combination of purple or white mollusk shell beads. The belts or patterns of beads represent a formal agreement, law, position, or message. Peter Jemison describes the purpose of the belts “… as a mnemonic device for remembering important ideas, so that when the reader of the belt holds it in his hands, the idea literally comes from the belt.”  The belt given by George Washington to the Haudenosaunee Nations represented the United States’ understanding of the Canandaigua Treaty. The full belt illustrates fifteen linked human figures and a house at the center. Thirteen figures represent the thirteen colonies of the United States at the time, and the two figures and the house at the center represent the Haudenosaunee Nations. In the Washington belt image below the figure on the left of the longhouse represents the Seneca Nation, which inhabits the western door of the longhouse, and the figure on the right represents the Mohawk Nation, which inhabits the eastern door of the longhouse. The longhouse represents the territory of the Haudenosaunee Nations, which stretches from east to west with the Onondaga Nation in the center.


portion of the Washington Wampum Belt
A portion of the Washington Wampum Belt


Another, older, treaty from 1613, is the Two Row Wampum (see image below, belt carried on right) which is the agreement made between the Haudenosaunee Nations and the Dutch Government in what is now New York State. This older treaty is the basis for all subsequent treaties and establishes and defines the relationship between the Haudenosaunee Nations and other governments, including the United States. The Two Row Wampum illustrates two separate, but equal paths symbolized by two rows of purple beads, one representing the path of the Haudenosaunee Nations, and the other representing the path of other governments. Three rows of white beads separate and frame the purple rows and represent friendship, peace, and respect. The relationship established with this agreement is that of brothers.  Haudenosaunee tradition states the duration of the Two Row Wampum agreement to be,

As long as the Sun shines upon this Earth, that is how long OUR Agreement will stand; Second, as long as the Water still flows; and Third, as long as the Grass Grows Green at a certain time of the year. Now we have Symbolized this Agreement and it shall be binding forever as long as Mother Earth is still in motion.”

Canandaigua Treaty Day

I’ve attended the Canandaigua Treaty Day for about ten years. Ever since my friends at the Faithkeeper’s School on the Allegany Seneca Nation brought to my attention the significance of the event and the importance of attending and remembering peace, friendship, and respect between the people and leaders of the United States and the Haudenosaunee Nations I made it a point to attend. Please consider brightening the chain of friendship next year on November 11 in Canandaigua, NY, and we will together keep peace, friendship, and respect in our minds, hearts, and actions always.

Learn more about Haudenosaunee Nation Treaties by following the links below:
Image Captions and Credits:
Image 1: Peter Jemison explains the significance and meaning of the Hiawatha Wampum belt at Council Rock. Image by Melissa Borgia
Image 2: Gathering at Council Rock on November 11, 2014 on the front lawn of the Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua, NY. Image by Cathy Pedler
Image 3: A Portion of the Washington Wampum Belt. Image Courtesy of Ganondagan. Image source: http://www.ganondagan.org/Learning/Wampum
Image 4: From left to right, the Hiawatha Wampum Belt, the Washington Wampum Belt, and the Two Row Wampum Belt. Image by Amy Blum Publicity


Cathy Pedler

Cathy Pedler is the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Director of Government Relations and Conservation. She has worked for ADK since July 2013 and has been active with ADK as a member working on oil and gas drilling issues in the Allegheny National Forest and the Allegany State Park. Cathy has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh, studied sustainability at Slippery Rock University, and received a M.S. in Applied Intelligence from the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University (IIS-MU). Cathy has been a board member and employee for environmental organizations and forest protection groups including, most recently, Heartwood and the Allegheny Defense Project. She enjoys gardening, camping, hiking, and monitoring public lands.