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Two-Row Wampum: Context and Questions

The image featured on our home page is of the Two-Row Wampum. The Kaswentha, or the Two-Row Wampum is thought to be the first treaty between Europeans and Indigenous peoples in North America, dating back to 1613. In The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River, Susan Hill describes The Two-Row Wampum belt, and the agreement/treaty it refers to:  

“On the surface, the Kaswentha represented a trading relationship, but on a deeper level it laid the foundation for interactions between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee… the two parallel purple lines depict the Dutch on one side and the Haudenosaunee on the other. The entire belt represents an ever-flowing river in which the vessels of the two nations travel side by side. The parallel aspect of the two lines represents the idea that the two will never cross paths but will remain connected (by the three white rows of wampum that separate them) through the principles of peace, friendship, and mutual respect. In essence they agree to live as peaceful neighbours in a relationship of friendship predicated under an agreement to not interfere in each other’s internal business”

Of course, as evidenced by history and current power relations, this agreement of non-interference was not kept, and the principles of peace, friendship and mutual respect were not upheld by settlers. Due to these inequities in power, and the neglect of these treaty relationships, some Indigenous peoples question a modern-day application of this nation-to-nation framework. As Glen Coulthard puts it:

“Two problems emerge when we try to apply the nation-to-nation framework — for example to the 17th-century Haudenosaunee Two-Row wampum treaty — to the power relations we face today. First, they assume a moral equivalency between the colonizer and the colonized that simply doesn’t exist. And second, they assume the legitimacy of the ship — of the state’s economic, legal and political institutions that have destroyed the river and eroded the riverbank”


With this in mind, and embedded in the work we aim to do throughout this project, we want to reflect on our responsibilities as Italian-Canadians: 

  • What are our responsibilities to the land and waters: How are we contributing to and complicit in the “the state’s economic, legal and political institutions that have destroyed the river and eroded the riverbank”? How can we support the work of Indigenous land and water protectors?

  • What are our responsibilities to Indigenous Nations: How do we hold up our end of a “nation-to-nation relationship”? How can we move towards possibilities for restitution, building solidarity, and strengthening relationships with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous Nations?





Coulthard, Glen (2015) “Land is a Relationship: In conversation with Glen Coulthard on Indigenous nationhood”. Interview by Harshia Walia. Retrieved from

Hill, Susan (2017) The Clay We Are Made Of. University of Manitoba Press.

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