A fleet of canoes and kayaks launched Sunday, July 28, to begin a 12-day trip down the Hudson River in honor of the 400th anniversary of a peace agreement made between Dutch settlers and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
For more than a year, members of the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation have been working on events to honor the treaty through the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. The hope is for these events to “reinvigorate” the meaning behind the agreement and for descendents of the two cultures to once again work on common goals, such as preserving the environment.
The 1613 agreement is believed to have been made in the area between Bethlehem and Albany where the Normanskill meets the Hudson River. The treaty was then documented by the Confederacy on a belt made with purple and white wampum. The two purple stripes down the belt were meant to symbolize the co-existence of the European settlers and Iroquois Nation as they strive toward common goals. The belt is still in possession of the Confederacy.
On Wednesday, July 24, the Bethlehem Town Board passed a resolution in of the campaign at the urging of town resident Paul Miller and his wife, Nikki, along with Dennis and Mickey Willard.
“We thought it was important for our town to act on a resolution to help acknowledge and renew this relationship because of the connection Bethlehem has to the Hudson, the early Dutch settlers and to a lot of the history here,” said Supervisor John Clarkson. “In fact our town seal … is symbolic of that early partnership.”
The resolution read, in part, how “Bethlehem and the Haudenosaunee can both benefit from a mutual collaboration and friendship to protect the environment on which we all depend.”
Miller said he wanted to become involved in the campaign because of his Dutch heritage.
“As a person of Dutch decent living here, (reconciliation) is big in my heart,” he said. “I sort of tuned into these issues during my life, and when I saw the opportunity arise to participate in this trip, I wanted to be involved.”
The Millers have also kayaked for more than 20 years and felt this event was well suited for them.
The flotilla launched from Rensselaer and made its first stop for lunch at Henry Hudson Park in Selkirk.
Kevin Nephew, a member of the Seneca Nation’s Wolf Clan, helped organize the event on behalf of the Capital District. He said more than 200 people were signed up for the first leg of the journey, with more people joining in or dropping out along the way.
“The wampum belt was meant to reflect two rows of canoes sharing the river of life,” said the Menands resident. “Always having mutual respect and understanding, but never crossing each other’s path. This trip is meant to symbolize that agreement.”
Participants weren’t able to stay in two rows as they made their way down the Hudson because of the weather and the different pace of the paddlers, but the sentiment was there as canoes and kayaks trickled into the park on Sunday.
Nephew said his children were among those on the trip. Others participants from western parts of the state had started their trip days before, paddling additional miles to make their way to Albany.
The trip will eventually end in New York City on Aug. 9 with a delegation making its way to the United Nations. There they plan to reenact the 1613 handshake and hold a discussion panel as par of Indigenous Peoples Day.
“Our goal is we want to renew and reenergize and re-educate,” said Nephew. “I think over the year we lost the simplistic message of sharing, understanding and respect for earth.”