Native American Studies symposium brings wampum experts to Penn

Prominent scholars, artists, musicians, and cultural leaders from 
Algonkian and Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) Nations will gather at the Penn Museum on Oct. 1 and 2 to take part in the symposium, “Woven Words: New Insights into Wampum and Native Studies.” The symposium will run from 4 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 1 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 2.

Hosted by the Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) Initiative at Penn and held in the Museum’s Widener Lecture Hall, the symposium will focus on wampum—beads carved from white whelk and purple quahog shells that are historically woven into belts and collars. These luminous beads and works of artisanship play a vital role in the history and culture of nations indigenous to the northeastern United States and Canada, and are credited with forming the foundation of a complex system of diplomatic rituals and symbols that record and reflect Indigenous identities and beliefs.

NAIS coordinator Margaret Bruchac (Abenaki), organizer of the symposium and an assistant professor of anthropology in the School of Arts & Sciences, says the annual event was one of the first ideas she proposed when launching the Initiative in the fall of 2013. The NAIS Initiative brings together faculty from schools and departments across the University who are teaching courses with Native American components. Bruchac says the NAIS Initiative and its new minor have deepened the ongoing campus dialogue about the cultural positions students bring to their studies, and “the annual symposium is designed to generate even more inter-cultural conversations.”

Invited guests will share their expertise on historical and contemporary aspects of wampum construction, and on the philosophy and practice of wampum diplomacy. Their unique insights will provide a framework for further discussion about the ways that Indigenous knowledge can be integrated and preserved in academic settings such as Penn.

The keynote speaker is Richard W. Hill, Sr. (Tuscarora), coordinator of the Deyohaha:ge Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations in Ohsweken, Ontario, who will discuss, “The Inherent Intelligence of Wampum.” Deyohaha:ge, in the Cayuga language, means “Two Roads.”

“The name embraces the concept of two streams of knowledge—Indigenous and Western—coming together in order to advance human understanding of the world around us,” Hill says.

The symposium will also feature presentations on wampum in museum collections, including a discussion of a “path belt” in the Penn Museum’s collection by members of the Penn “Wampum Trail” research team. Other activities will include a musical performance, a living history interpretation and display, and a participatory Native American social dance.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the NAIS website. The symposium is free and open to the public.

Wampun Symposium