Along the Lakeshore: A New York history lesson

Last week I went to a breakfast meeting to hear a presentation by John Sutton. It was a recap of his kayak trip to New York City and the United Nations in 2013. He accompanied the Iroquois Nation entourage from Albany to 57th Street in the city to commemorate the Two Row Wampum Treaty that was signed in Albany 400 years ago between the Dutch settlers and the Haudenosaunee (the five nations of the Iroquois).

This was a very serious project which only entered my purview through some TV spots about the Onondagas wending their way down the Hudson River. The Dutch and the native peoples were coexisting peacefully at the time of the signing of the Two Row Wampum Treaty and it was very important to maintain the situation. The pattern of the wampum belt is two rows of purple beads alternating with rows of white beads. The purple rows denote two canoes and two peoples traveling parallel courses, each with their own laws, beliefs, and way of life, but never interfering with each other. The white stripes symbolize peace, friendship and harmony. The treaty is considered to be still in effect by the Haudenosaunee.

John had to get himself in shape to paddle six hours each day. He did this by paddling his kayak the length of Skaneateles Lake until he could do it in six hours. He then felt he was ready.

He was motivated to do it because he is a direct descendant of a 1644 resident of New Amsterdam, or “Nieuw Amsterdam” as it was called at the time. Not too much is currently known about the pre-English history of the Dutch in New York state. John said that there are bound histories of this period which were just stashed in the state archives when the English took over in 1664. Work is being done on these histories at this time and they will be published as the research is released in scholarly papers.

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