Five months before his death, on 27 January 2014, Pete Seeger attended the Two Row Festival in Beacon, New York.
The Two Row Festival commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first agreement signed between the Haudenosaunee and European Colonists in 1613.
Immediately following the celebration, 150 paddlers launched their canoes for a 13-day symbolic enactment voyage to the United Nations in New York City.
This is a brief overview of the “Two Row Wampum Epic Canoe Journey” from one paddler’s perspective:
We paddled 9 to 15 miles each day and camped along the way. There were educational and cultural events along the way, some large others small. The gatherings will feature talks by Haudenosaunee leaders and allies and cultural sharing.
We arrived in New York City on Friday, August 9 to participate in the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The Two Festival began as “Statewide advocacy and educational campaign,” initially called The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. This “umbrella” organization is a “Partnership between the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON).
NOON, in turn, worked to develop “A Broad alliance between the Haudenosaunee (People of the Long House) and their allies in New York and throughout the world.”
NOON’s educational and advocacy campaign “Seeks to achieve justice by polishing the chain of friendship established in the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch immigrants.”
Along with social justice, “Environmental cleanup and preservation” are core components of NOON’s campaign. Issues that is familiar to Pete Seeger.
In a photograph taken on the day of the festival, 3 August 2013, Mr. Seeger raises a replica of a Two Row Wampum Belt in the air. “The ancient, original wampum belt is too sacred and too delicate to display in public. Therefore, the Haudenosaunee make replicas for important ceremonies.
Choosing Pete Seeger to hold the Two Row Wampum Belt was an act of mutual respect and friendship. Many of the founders of the Two Row Festival, like Andy Mager, Oren Lyons and Evan Pritchard considered Pete Seeger “A true champion of human rights, justice and peace.”
“Pete was one of the first people to respond to our request to join the Two Row Honorary Advisory Committee.”
In addition, “He deeply admired the courage and tenacity of the Haudenosaunee for maintaining their traditional ways and structures despite centuries of colonization and efforts to destroy their ways. He wanted to assist our efforts in any way he could.
“Had Pete been just a little younger, he certainly would have paddled with us at least part of the way. Despite his fame, he remained a deeply humble person who likes to get his hands dirty and help in whatever ways he could.”
These replicas make it possible for the ideas, agreements and beliefs of the Past to remain a vital part of a Nation’s living memory. Mr. Seeger was well aware of the honor bestowed on him when members of the Haudenosaunee community entrusted him with such a sacred symbol.
He holds covenant high enough so that it is visible to the large gathering. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples traveled long distances to celebrate this momentous occasion.
The Two Row Wampum Belt is a vital source of inspiration for the NOON renewal campaign. It is a document that symbolizes and unbroken legacy between the present and past. To this day, Haudenosaunee neighbors retain the Two Row Wampum Belt with the original treaty.
According to some traditions, “The Two Row Wampum belt is made of white and purple beads. The white beads denote truth and one purple row of beads represents a sailboat.
In the sailboat are the Europeans, their leaders, their government, and their religion
The other purple row of beads represents a canoe. In the canoe are the Native Americans, their leaders, their governments, and their Way of Life.
Each shall travel down the road of life, parallel to each other.
In between the two rows of purple beads are three rows of white beads.
The first row of white beads is Peace.
The second row of white beads is Friendship.
The third row of white beads is Forever.
As long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downstream and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west:
We shall travel down the road of life together in peace and harmony.
Not only with each other but also with the whole circle of life: the animals, the birds, fish, water, plants, the grass, trees, the stars, moon and thunder.
The Haudenosaunee have never violated this treaty.”
9 August 2013 was a memorable day for Pete Seeger. He was there when hundreds of people arrived in New York City after paddling down the Hudson River to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Native American treaty with Europeans.
The event was also part of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, first proclaimed by the United Nations in 1994.
On a more personal note, Mr. Seeger remembers his late wife Toshi Seeger who had died exactly one month earlier on 9 July 2013; nine days before their 70th wedding anniversary.
Mr. Seeger made one final public appearance on 21 September 2013. He performed at Farm Aid at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“Joined by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, he sang “This Land Is Your Land.”
Mr. Seeger died in New York City on 9 January 2012. The Two Row Wampum Canoe Journey was one of his last campaigns.