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Storytellers conference evokes Two Row Wampum Belt Treaty of 1613

Two row wampum belt

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published April 4, 2013

“The important thing to recognize is that the Two Row Wampum Belt agreement, which was signed in upstate New York, was founded on mutual respect based on friendship, peace and acknowledgment of each other’s different traditions, so long as the grass grows, the waters run, the sun rises and Mother Earth lives.”
Steve Demchak, Conference Organizer

Among indigenous peoples across America and Canada there is outrage and a strong activist movement provoked by what they consider the destructive, ongoing violations of the 400-year-old Two Row Wampum Belt Treaty by the American and Canadian governments, and entities protected by them—violations Native Peoples say threaten not only indigenous health and culture, but life on earth.

“Decolonization through Tradition,” the ninth annual American Studies Storytellers Conference, to be held April 12-13 at UB, is presented by the American Studies Graduate Student Association, Department of Transnational Studies. Events will include:

  • Pre-conference potluck dinner and Haudenosaunee social, 6-10 p.m., April 12, Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, 1005 Grant St., Buffalo.
  • Conference, beginning at 9 a.m., April 13, 120 Clemens Hall, North Campus. Keynote address to take place at 1 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and snacks will be provided.
  • Post-conference dinner, 6-10 p.m., April 13, Banchetti Banquet Facility and Grove, 550 North French Road, Amherst.

Additional registration and program information is available online.

“Our purpose this year,” says conference organizer Steve Demchak, “is to reinvigorate the vision of peace, power and righteousness that was so clearly articulated in 1613 by indigenous and settler peoples with consideration to our future paths and generations in our respective boats.

“The important thing to recognize is that the Two Row Wampum Belt agreement, which was signed in upstate New York, was founded on mutual respect based on friendship, peace and acknowledgment of each other’s different traditions, so long as the grass grows, the waters run, the sun rises and Mother Earth lives.”

The keynote speaker will be Doug George-Kanentiio, Bear Clan, Askwesasne Mohawk, founder of the national Native American Journalists Association, former member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian and chair of Round Dance Productions, a nonprofit educational foundation on Oneida land dedicated to the preservation of Iroquois culture. He is the author of many books and articles about native history and current issues, the latest of which is “Iroquois on Fire: A Voice from the Mohawk Nation” (2008, University of Nebraska Press).

The conference also will feature dozens of indigenous scholars from across Canada and the U.S., who will focus on the consequences of these treaty violations and other problems provoked by colonialism and the current vigorous attempts by indigenous peoples to decolonize themselves.

Speakers will address such topics as national identity, oral traditions, language recovery and vitalization, indigenous sovereignty, land reclamation and use, and environmental restoration and protection.

The John Mohawk Legacy Address will be delivered prior to the post-conference dinner by Rick W. Hill Sr., Beaver Clan, Tuscarora Nation, Six Nations Grand River Territory.

Hill, who received his MA in American Studies from UB in 1990, has since served as special assistant to the director for public programs at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. He now works as senior project coordinator at Deyohahage Indigenous Knowledge Center at Six Nations Polytechnic, Ohsweken, Ontario.

Demchek says the conference will be held in solidarity with the Two Row Wampum Belt renewal movement and the Idle No More movement, the latter founded by the First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples of Canada in response to a number of Canadian legislative omnibus bills, particularly the notorious Bill C-45, which they say threatens the continuation of their ecosystem and future generations.

As it has every year for the past nine years, the conference continues to honor its late founders: John Mohawk, award-winning scholar, author, editor, conflict negotiator and champion of the rights of indigenous peoples; and nationally known activist, well-loved teacher and scholar Barry White, both of whom were members of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians and both of whom taught for many years in the UB Department of American Studies, which White helped to found.