Two Row II by Alan Michelson
I first heard about the Two Row Wampum Treaty when I visited the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford with the Canadian Roots Program in February 2012. The Treaty was to articulate the relationship between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Dutch settlers in 1613. The belt represents two people living side-by-side, respecting the other and never interfering with the other. The belt itself is a memory aid, the bead colors and patterns are a code. The following is the Hudenosaunee meaning for the belt:
You say that you are our Father and I am your Son.
(We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers)
This wampum belt confirms our words.
(Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.)
As long as the Sun shines upon this Earth,
As long as the Water still flows;
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)
The treaty is still considered valid by the Hudenosaunee. Artist, Alan Michelson, recreated the belt in a dynamic video installtion. This 30 foot video installation shows two scenes: the shore seen from a canoe and the shore seen by a European ship. Audio overlay combining voices from an elder and ship’s captain. The audience is given the Hudenosaunee perspective. The audio contrasts the two cultures, the gentle voice of the elder and the authoritative voice of the captain. There is a sense of miscommunication. Despite the difference in tone, the piece alludes to harmony not yet achieved. I am struck with the idea that one day the two voices will be saying the same thing. What will they be saying, I am not sure.