Dynamic Tensions

The Broader Context of Our Legacies Conversations

In the Legacies exchange, our Haudenosaunee partners Chandra and Rick reminded us of the Two Row Wampum, or Teioháte Kaswén:ta, an agreement which dates back to a 1613 treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch. Woven into the beaded wampum are two parallel paths, one representing the Indigenous canoe and the other the European mast ship. This original agreement was based on notions of peace and friendship; each nation would follow its own path while respecting and not intervening in the path of the other. And it was always in relation to all other living beings. As Tuscarora historian Rick clarifies, the agreement was to last “as long as Sun always makes it bright on earth, the Waters flow in a certain direction, and the Wild Grasses grow at a certain time of year.”

The two-row wampum can be seen as a framework for the kind of relationship between Indigenous and settlers that we desperately need to recover. But we first have to acknowledge the many ways that this treaty has been broken, and its impact on our nation-to-nation relationship as well as our relationship with the common waters that we share.

Chandra explaining the two-row wampum to Legacies Collaborators at Six Nations

The Earth to Tables Legacies exchange grapples with the tensions, struggles, and legacies of broken treaties and western imperialism. We have identified four interrelated dynamic tensions that represent the broader political, ecological and cultural context within which we live and work. They shape our relationships and the conversations that you will find within our videos and photo essays. These tensions represent the ongoing struggle between the Indigenous Peoples and settlers,1 the canoe and the ship. Our colonial histories are complicated by the fact that there are also deep differences among the so-called settlers, as the ships were controlled by wealthy white Europeans who brutally stuffed African slaves into the galleys as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade, compounding a legacy a white supremacy. And these African settlers had deep roots in Indigenous cultures, as did racialized immigrants and exiles from other colonized continents.

We identify these interrelated tensions around the notions of knowledge, food, politics and equity. They correspond with the way we have framed the videos and photo essays in the Conversations section: as ways of knowing, earth, justice, and tables. The photographs that open each section are drawn from the climate justice strike in Toronto in 2019, revealing how activists are naming these tensions in the streets.

  1. We use the term ‘settler’ while problematizing its meaning. Commentator Amber Adams reflected: “I don’t see much that’s unsettled about ten or fifteen millennia of continuous occupation (by Indigenous Peoples). Even as a term of détente, the concept of a Eurocanadian settler still suggests its obverse: the threadbare trope of the savage nomad that is still, as recently as last year, being offered by the governments of Canada and Ontario as sufficient reason to refuse to return land it took unlawfully from Indigenous nations, or even offer them fair compensation for this theft. Climate refugees, transported convicts, trafficking victims, economic migrants — all of these terms describe methods by which Europeans (and Africans, and others) arrived in North America, and none of them describe people in a settled state.”