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Onondaga Nation crafts canoes for Two Row Wampum campaign

Ellen Abbott

As the Onondaga Nation prepares for a canoe trip this summer to promote awareness of the Two Row Wampum Treaty, three Onondaga Nation men have gone back to their ancestors for inspiration.

One of the canoes that will be used for the renewal campaign, which commemorates the first treaty between the Native Americans and the first European settlers, is being made using Native American methods that go back centuries.

Hickory Edwards, of the Onondaga Turtle Clan, started out with a tree; a Tulip Poplar log from Nation property along Hemlock Creek. He says they chose to use the Tulip Poplar because they grow big enough to fit a person inside.

Traditionally, the logs were hollowed out by fire. But as Edwards explains, that is a time consuming process.

"You burn it and carve out the burnt parts with a stick and when you are done, it's really smooth," he said. "It's just a lot of time consuming process in which we don't really have the time right now. You know, we've only got like two months to go - so we're using these adzes."

An adze is an ancient tool used to smooth out wood.

Once the log is hollowed out, the final step is to make it water-worthy.

"When it comes time to float it and put it in the water, we're gonna seal it with pine pitch, bear grease and charcoal and have that mixed together and stuff the cracks as much as we can and make it waterproof," Edwards said.

As soon as it is water-tight and ready to go, the canoe will make its way to the Mohawk River, down the Hudson to New York City, and hopefully end up at the National Museum of the American Indian. Edwards says no one has done this that he knows of.

"I figured I'd take it upon myself to get that knowledge back in use and keep the old ways alive," he said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.