GRAND RIVER – In honour of the Two Row Wampum and what it still stands for, a group of Onkwehon:weh and settler allies are in the middle of a Haudenosaunee healing paddle down the Grand River to re-polish the chain of friendship.
The “Two Row on the Grand” canoe paddle is a symbolic renewal of the Two Row Wampum— the original peace-treaty between First Nation and settler communities.
This is the second canoe paddle, the first took place in 2013 on the 400 year anniversary of the Two Row Wampum and Ellie Joseph, who is a part of the event’s steering committee wants everyone involved to enjoy the celebrations.
“The trip in 2013 and this year’s event is a great opportunity for people who don’t know a lot about the Haudenosaunee to come and be a part of something historic,” said Joseph. “We’re going to honour the Two Row and amongst ourselves make sure that we remember to respect the earth and honour the treaties.”
The event kicked off last week on Canada Day in Paris where the group began the canoe paddle and went on until July 3rd. Starting on July 4, after a day of relaxation, refreshment and traditional teachings and storytelling, a core group will continued to paddle farther down the Grand River to the mouth of Port Maitland on Lake Erie.
“The paddle officially finishes this Saturday in Port Maitland,” said Joseph. “There we will have our closing ceremonies and part ways with many of the group members.”
Several paddlers came from great distances and had to reserve their spot early to ensure they could take part in honouring the treaty — like friends Buffy Curtis and Liseli Haines, paddlers and supporters from the U.S.
“It’s the sense of what the message is and what it’s about that is so important,” said Curtis. “It’s not like this is a supposed to be a tourist event — it’s the idea that we are raising awareness of the water and the treaties. It’s also so incredibly important that we raise awareness of the partnership between natives and allies and we as allies have taken that on as our responsibility. We have to be responsible for our own part.
“The idea isn’t that one takes over the other. The whole principle of the Two Row is that the two vessels are to go down the river of life side-by-side. Understanding and being in common care of the earth, the water and each other,” said Curtis.
The event is not necessarily intended to become an annual event, but future paddles in different locations are in the works to continuing raising awareness of the treaties.
“What we’re kind of envisioning from this is maybe paddling different rivers and increasing awareness on different tributaries,” said Joseph. “We had a great turn out this year and everyone is having a lot of fun getting to know each other and spending so much time together.”
The number of paddlers can change every day depending on who is joining up halfway, or those that can only have time to paddle for one afternoon or other with similar reasons, but in total the group organizers are guessing that there would have been close to one hundred paddlers in this years event.
A young couple from New York State only had time to complete the first three days of the paddle, but still loved the time they spent with everyone.
“It’s been a great experience and a lot of fun learning the culture,” said Shawn Leatherman. “Theres a lot of stuff I didn’t know – and it’s a good workout.”
Leatherman’s girlfriend, Andrea Chaloux who celebrated her birthday during the paddle, said she heard about the trip from a friend’s Facebook page and really wanted to participate.
“I care because I feel that this is a great opportunity to learn, share, give and receive,” said Chaloux. “And to learn information that I might not have ever learned anywhere else.
“I appreciate so much those that put this together and I wanted to show support by attending and show support by coming and learning what I could,” said Chaloux.
The couple agreed that there was no better place that they wanted to spend Chaloux’s birthday.
“We came as strangers and left as family,” said Leatherman.