SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND RIVER, ON – March 19, 2020 –
The Two Row on the Grand (TROG) is a 9-day paddle trip along the Six Nations of the Grand River starting in Cambridge and ending in Fort Erie for a total of 152km. It is a symbolic renewal of the Two Row Wampum – the original peace treaty between native and settler communities. In 2019, the Two Row on the Grand received $9900 from the Economic Development Trust (EDT) Fund. $1800 of that was for honoraria for cultural speakers and $8100 was used towards program costs. The honoraria was for members in our community that gave different daily teachings on the history of Six Nations, history of the Grand River, and social dancing. The funding also covered registration fees for 15 safety paddlers, the people who volunteer to drive this event, including a few canoe and kayak rentals.
Felecia: Thank you so much Ellie for meeting with me for this interview. After completing the paddle last year, I am excited to share your story with our audience. So, tell me a little bit about Two Row on the Grand.
Ellie: The Two Row on the Grand is truth and reconciliation in action. It can be fun, it can be survival of the fittest, it can be learning experiences. It’s people learning to work together toward a common goal and that common goal is healthy connection and getting to the end of the paddle. It is based on the Two Row Wampum and we send that message out as a reminder to ourselves what that means; Peace. Friendship. Trust. That’s the overlying atmosphere that we try to achieve while we’re paddling.
Felecia: Why is it called the Two Row on the Grand?
Ellie: It’s called the Two Row on the Grand because we literally paddle in two rows. We have people who identify as Indigenous paddling in one row and people who are non-Indigenous paddling in another row. That, in itself is really powerful as it represents truth and reconciliation. Historically, the Two Row mentions the settler community and the 5 Nations who first interacted on the Hudson River and in the northern New York state area.
Felecia: That’s a very powerful meaning to encompass. I can imagine the conversations that take place while paddling in those two rows. As a participant, walk me through a typical day on the Two Row on the Grand journey.
Ellie: Well you get up early, if you’re camping you get up really early. Around 6am, we have a wake-up call, participants eat their breakfast, they take their tents down and get organized for the day. Participants begin to mingle and talk to the other paddlers. We always have a thanksgiving address in the morning where the whole paddle family gets together. We do logistics for the day of what the participants can expect along the route. For example, if there’s a portage, weather warnings or any other kind of safety things that come up. We talk about good water stewardship because that’s important to us as well as protecting the environment. We launch our vessels and we don’t start to paddle until everyone’s in the water – that helps build the feeling of community. We paddle until its time to stop for lunch.
After lunch and relaxation, we paddle on to our camping grounds for the night, people set their tents up, we have a cultural teaching, and we eat dinner together. Usually there’s a bonfire or some kind of connection activity in the evening. Generally, people are in bed by 9 o’clock as they’ve had a full day.
Felecia: It’s definitely a busy adventure but ultimately a very rewarding experience to be a part of. What is it like to watch the participants make it across that finish line?
Ellie: I’m the lead paddler of the Haudenosaunee side of the flotilla. Now by this point it’s the longest paddle of the day at 27 kilometres. People are tired. People are excited. You can hear the excitement build as people get close. My role is to take the wampum to land first. Then I coordinate other people coming in and that’s the highlight of my whole time on the journey is to see people reach the end – particularly the ones who have done the whole paddle because it’s a sense of accomplishment for them. It’s amazing to see that flotilla of people getting along and sense of pride they have, and the reason why we’re there is just really overwhelming.
Felecia: As a participant myself I can definitely relate to the feeling of excitement. You can truly feel the energy of everybody as we make it to shore. What is one thing you want our readers to know about the Two Row on the Grand?
Ellie: I think the readers need to know that underlying this whole recreational adventure is the Two Row Wampum and that we are fully engaged in reminding ourselves and teaching others about what that Two Row Wampum is.
The other thing would be that the opportunity and challenge is available to anyone that can put their good mind toward it. We’ve had elders, we’ve had a boy participate who was in a wheelchair and we’ve had a double amputee participate in the whole paddle. The people here support each other, extend their own help and ask for it when it’s needed. They use their good minds throughout the entire process.
Felecia: You’ve mentioned “community” a couple times now, can you tell me what it is that you see as a “community” on the Two Row?
Ellie: When I think of the word “community” I can think of it in two ways. I can think of our Six Nations community. As this is a healthy event – we don’t allow drugs or alcohol. That opens it up to an opportunity for us to feel safe whereas maybe we wouldn’t experience that in other places. I’ve met people in our community who have become good friends because of the connection that we now have on the water. It’s a healthy way to live. We’re connecting back to our river; the Grand River. We are re-connecting back to the river we had forgotten, and our community members are going back to the water. I think that it’s almost like therapy for a lot of our people – a much needed and wholesome therapy. There’s “community” between Allies and Haudenosaunee – that’s another bond because a lot of our neighbours don’t know who we are. We’re finding that out even more that our neighbours, and many of the people in the communities we paddle through, don’t know who we are and they have a lot of questions as well as a lot of assumptions. Or maybe they’ve been given history lessons that are inaccurate so it’s an opportunity for learning and building community that way.
Felecia: That’s a very good point to mention. The connections along the journey are important. Have you heard any testimonials that you hold very dear to you?
Ellie: Oh wow, there is a lot of them. One of them comes from a paddler from our community who I didn’t know at all, but they said, “I know the river well and I’d like to volunteer and help in any way that I can.” So, we said “okay, let’s put this person on the river.” That person was so helpful along the whole journey that when we got to the end and we were getting ready to go home that person said “I don’t want to leave because I’ve never ever been treated with so much love and respect in my life.” Now this is making me cry but he still comes on our paddle every year. He puts that first and foremost. That’s one that I hold very near and dear to my heart.
There’s a lot of others. I hear something positive almost every day from either a participant, ground support or even from perfect strangers who witness our paddle along the water watching us. They can give me a little bit of a reminder of why we are doing this.
We had a testimonial from someone who really went outside of her comfort level who had quite the journey as a drug addict and she is healing. She found comfort, she found passion for the water and she is moving forward. That to me, I hold close to my heart. Also, you get the little wee kids that say, “this was the best day I’ve ever had”. There’s always something that reminds me that this is something that we need to continue.
Felecia: That’s amazing to hear. Well thank you for sharing your journey with us Ellie. I look forward to the 2020 TROG!
About Six Nations of the Grand River Economic Development Trust:
The Economic Development Trust (EDT) is the mechanism in which surplus profits generated by Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation (SNGRDC) are invested into the Six Nations Community for the collective benefit of its members. This model of distribution was a direct result of the 2011 community engagement study “We Gather Our Voices”. The EDT will continue to invest in the Six Nations Community in future years through yearly distributions made possible by SNGRDC. For more information visit www.sndevcorp.ca/edt/