by Anne Pyburn Craig
In a restorative justice coup unlike any ever seen before, the Two Row Paddlers and the Unity Riders visited the Hudson Valley last month, blending a magically good time with a deeply serious purpose, invoking the age-old principle that it is never too late for neighbors to reason together.
The Onondaga and the Lakota came the old way, on horses and in small craft. They camped and sang and talked and danced in many towns; the Unity Riders stopped to visit inland spots like Woodstock and Rosendale, joining up with the Two Row Paddlers in the great ports like Albany, Kingston and Beacon. The people of the Hudson Valley organized celebrations and meals and campsites. Countless bonds were forged between hosts and visitors. Or, as one person put it on Facebook after the Beacon event on August 3, “WHAT A ROCKIN’ WEEKEND!”
When the Dutch arrived in New York, they found a society that had been practicing participatory democracy under the Great Law of Peace for about 600 years. The Haudenosaunee, in an attempt to establish a working relationship with the newcomers, laid out how things could work with a Covenant Chain of peace, respect and friendship between two very different societies, and the Two Row Wampum agreement of 1613—respect and noninterference and mutual aid “as long as the sun rises, the rivers flow, and the grass grows.”
In 2005, a court opted to side with the Doctrine of Discovery, dreamed up by a 15th-century pope and stating that European agents had a right and duty to go “civilize” whoever the hell they wanted and automatically owned all of it.
The Doctrine of Discovery was adopted into United States law in an 1832 Supreme Court case and has never been overturned. It’s considered “settled”. The Unity Riders from Manitoba and the Onondaga from Syracuse made their trek through our neighborhood to remind people that there was settled law in place long before—the Two Row Treaty of 1613—and that taking good care of this place we share was and is a condition of that deal.
Noninterference was part of the pact, a mutual recognition that each culture had its own ways. Still, when the framers of New York’s constitution worked out their plan, they did a good bit of borrowing from the People Building a Long House.
Parts the newcomers should have borrowed and somehow missed include the protection of the planet seven generations into the future, the importance of the Clan Mothers, and the simple fact that we can’t eat money. The riders and the paddlers journeyed to the UN to discuss all this with sheer mind-blowing good humor and generosity. Paddling a canoe down the Hudson is no small thing.
Before anybody ever heard of Pope Nicholas and the Doctrine of Discovery, the people already living here had established a system based on mutual respect. We are still invited to join them. You can learn a lot more about all this at honorthetworow.org and unityride.com; or on the Facebook pages they’ve set up. They’re offering a foundation—it’s up to us to help build it.
photo by Rod Bicknell