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5.1.1 Replica of the Hiawatha wampum belt

Imitation wampum belt made of rolled purple and buff colored fimo clay beads and imitation sinew recreating the Hiawatha belt which records when the five nations; the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, buried their weapons of war to live in peace.

1990-2010
Object (ceremonial Item)

Replica of the Hiawatha wampum belt, 1990-2010, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (26/9056)

The Hiawatha Wampum Belt is a symbol of the Peacemaker story. This story tells of the beginning of the Iroquois Confederacy and the creation of the Great Law of Peace.

Before the Peacemaker, the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk were constantly at war with each other. The Peacemaker spread a message of unity and peace. The Great Law guides the way that people live. Each group continues to be independent, but they come together to decide on issues that affect the confederacy as a whole.

Wampum belts were symbols of respect that people held at gatherings. They were not worn. Wampum belts are historical records that include important information. What are the images on the wampum belt? How might they relate to the Peacemaker story?

The Iroquois Confederacy, known as Haudenosaunee, includes six independent groups. They live in modern-day northern New York state and on the Canadian border (there is also a Six Nations Reserve in Canada). At the beginning, five nations came together to form the confederacy to end war, maintain peace, and encourage cooperation among the groups. A sixth nation joined the confederacy in the 1700s. Each of the six nations remain independent, but they also have a shared constitution that connects them under the confederacy. The council makes decisions using consensus, guided by the principles of the Great Law of Peace established by the Peacemaker. Encourage students to consider the Peacemaker story and the imagery used on the belt. Why did the Iroquois form the confederacy? How is this history an example of one reason why Native groups formed systems of government?

Explanation of the Hiawatha Wampum Belt: The imagery on the Hiawatha Wampum Belt symbolizes the peacemaking story between the nations. The tree at the center represents the Tree of Peace planted with the Onondaga Nation by the Peacemaker. This is where the nations' leaders meet. The creator of the belt used the longhouse, the traditional rectangular house and ceremonial buildings used by the Iroquois people, as symbols for the other four groups on either side of the Onondaga. The Seneca are the nation farthest west and the Mohawk are the farthest east. The line that connects each group symbolizes peace.