The Two Row Wampum

"We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. [Our treaties] symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together."


Central to the transformation of services toward Indigenous ways of knowing and being is the Two Row Wampum Belt. This symbol represents a foundational agreement between Europeans and American Indian Nations on Turtle Island (North America). The essence of this agreement, beautifully embodied in the Two Row Wampum, teaches us invaluable lessons about coexistence, respect, and the importance of preserving cultural autonomy and identity. In the words of Kanien’kehá:ka Historian Ray Fadden, this treaty symbolizes a commitment to travel the river of life together while respecting the sovereignty and customs of each distinct culture.

Understanding the Two-Row Wampum:

The Two Row Wampum is a powerful physical representation of this historic accord. It consists of two rows of purple wampum beads set against a white background. Three rows of white beads, symbolizing peace, friendship, and respect, separate the two purple rows. This belt serves as a visual narrative of two vessels, side by side, traveling down the same river of life.

One purple row signifies the Haudenosaunee people and their profound laws and customs. The other row represents European laws and customs. The visual separation between the two purple rows signifies that these two cultures are distinct, each following its own path without interference or overlap. As nations move together on the River of Life, they share the waters harmoniously, emphasizing the vital principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

The Shared Journey:

The wisdom contained within the Two Row Wampum can be summarized by the words of John Borrows, an Indigenous legal scholar: “We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. [Our treaties] symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together. One, a birchbark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs, and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs, and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.”


The Two Row Wampum Belt stands as a timeless emblem of unity, respect, and autonomy. It carries the enduring message that diverse cultures can travel the river of life together, side by side, each in its own vessel. This sacred symbol continues to inspire and guide us, promoting dialogue and understanding between cultures while upholding the principles of sovereignty and respect. It serves as a powerful reminder that in our shared journey, we must preserve and honour the distinct customs, laws, and ways of all cultures that navigate the River of Life.

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