Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Historic wampum belt returned to Akwesasne

 

Mohawk elder Ernest Benedict holds the two hundred-year-old wampum belt known as the Wolf Belt.

In a ceremony attended by hundreds of Akwesasronon, a 200-year-old wampum belt was returned to Akwesasne after being in the possession of the New York State Museum until a few months ago. It’s been kept in a bank vault awaiting last week’s ceremony.

The Wolf Belt signifies friendship and unity, but it has been interpreted in different ways by various scholars. Only the belt’s purple and white beads know it’s original purpose, but Akwesasne people are embracing it as a symbol of the community’s unity going back centuries and carrying on to present day.

“The resilience of the Mohawk people with their ability to survive over the past few centuries should be applauded,” said Mohawk Faithkeeper Jake Swamp. “When we look back on our past history we can appreciate the accomplishments of our ancestors as well as the hardships they faced to maintain who we are. Two hundred years later we’re still here together as a community and nation trying to overcome the problems of today.” (See Swamp’s speech below.)

The belt was once owned by Akwesasronon Margaret Cook of Kana:takon (St. Regis). She sold it to Harriet Converse in the late 1800s who later donated it to the New York State Museum where it remained until recently.

On Sept. 17, Akwesasne people and gathered at three locations in Akwesasne to give the belt a special welcome home. First, a tobacco ceremony was held at the Peace Tree Trade Center on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island) to officially welcome the belt back to the territory. Then it was taken to the Ronathahonni Cultural Centre for a second welcome ceremony that saw the belt being sent off by canoe to Akwesasne’s mainland. Two men, Arnold Printup III and Dean George canoed the belt across the St. Lawrence River and up the Raquette River where it was carried from the shore to the grounds of the Akwesasne Museum - the belt’s new home. They were escorted on the rivers by the HAVFD, police services and a canoe of community members.

Akwesasne community members waited for its arrival and lined up to pass the belt from one person to the next up the hill to the museum. Elders like Ernest Benedict helped to welcome the belt home along with community leaders and ambassadors, and the museum’s directors and board members.

The belt is being kept under lock and key in a climate controlled room and casing built especially for the wampum belt.

Wolf Belt is Home

By Jake Swamp

Today is a historic day as the Akwesasne community and its national leaders come together to place the Wolf Belt in what will become a permanent display. The Wolf Belt was constructed around two hundred years ago to commemorate a time when unity was needed to overcome the pressures of colonization. The resilience of the Mohawk people with their ability to survive over the past few centuries should be applauded. When we look back on our past history we can appreciate the accomplishments of our ancestors as well as the hardships they faced to maintain who we are. Two hundred years later we’re still together as a community and nation trying to overcome the problems of today. We can still identify ourselves as a unique people because our common language is intact.

Elder Ernest Benedict delivering the opening address with emcee Irving Papineau.

We are a people endowed with our own institutions of presiding over marriages , funerals, and also maintain the ability to be involved in national and international affairs. The strength of our people comes from our cultural values that bind us together. Here at Akwesasne we are blessed with brilliant and gifted people to help us through the obstacles we face. We stand here today as several entities that are challenged with internal and external problems. In reflection to the past two hundreds years when the Wolf Belt was made, a unity was forged so that we in this generation would realize that our ancestors were thinking of us, as the future generations. We depend on our leadership today to come together in a united effort to fight for our future and for the future of the next generation’s survival.

 

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