The banner represents the Two Row Wampum Treaty. (Wampum are coloured beads sewn together.) The original treaty was symbolized in a wampum belt, a traditional way of encapsulating and recording political agreements among tribes.
But what exactly is the Two Row Wampum Treaty? That question lay hidden as I began researching my novel Crimes of Disrespect. I say "hidden" because, like most non-indigenous North Americans, I had no idea it even existed. To correct this failing, let's hope the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action spur governments to put more (some?) Aboriginal content in the schools and post-secondary curricula.
I have no memory of when I first came across Two Row Wampum Treaty. But when I brainstormed the novel, I knew I wanted to deal fictionally with the 2006-2007 flare-up of the Grand River Land Dispute, a sometimes violent clash between Six Nations of the Grand River (lying southwest of Toronto and being the largest reserve in Canada) and its neighbouring town, Caledonia. And also, being a fan of crime fiction, I wanted to write a mystery story.
My motivation to imagine a similar land quarrel came as much from bafflement as from white guilt: when the Six Nations dispute made headlines internationally in 2006, I was perplexed. Having grown up in Guelph, Ontario, a mere hour-and-a-half drive north of the reserve, I was also ashamed that I had no idea what was behind the conflict. And it was conflict, with fist fights, rock throwing, and arrests.
But to return to the Two Row Wampum, I was fascinated by it as a foundational agreement between European settlers and Indigenous peoples in what became Canada and the United States. In a nutshell, the treaty says that the two parties agree to live alongside each other, like two boats sharing a river. One canoe never forces the other off course. Specifically, they'll both respect each others' culture, economy, and lifestyle. In other words, they'll live in mutual respect, friendship, and peace. It didn't work out that way, exactly.
For a simplified history of the Two Row Wampum and controversies about it, refer to the infographic below. I drew the chart based on the Wikipedia entry on the Two Row Wampum Treaty: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Row_Wampum_Treaty.
I didn't start out with the theme of "respect" in writing Crimes of Disrespect. But eventually the idea united the Indigenous part with other key aspects of the story.
Virtually any novel needs research, but what I learned for this one will stay with me, as a non-Indigenous Canadian, for the rest of my life. The cliché about a "veil being lifted from my eyes" sums up the experience.
Copyright © R.B. Young
R.B. Young is the author of the novel Crimes of Disrespect and of short stories in Canadian and American literary journals. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.