Military Alliance Wampum

A beaded collar secured the relationship between British and Wendat nations.

Written by Annick Desmarais

Posted February 14, 2023

Wampums are made of purple and white tubular beads that are hand-fashioned from the shells of certain marine mollusks. Indigenous people of the Eastern Woodlands acquired these beads through trade and wove them into collars of various sizes, which they exchanged in the course of diplomatic relations. Wampum collars were used, among other purposes, to communicate significant messages through woven symbols. A messenger delivered a wampum to the recipient in order to reinforce and legitimize his oral message. Wampums played a prominent political role in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to seal the various pacts, alliances, and treaties made between Indigenous peoples and European colonial powers. The semi-sedentary and matrilineal Huron-Wendat Nation considered wampums to be “necklaces of truth.”

Written and oral history sources suggest that representatives of King George III of England presented this wampum necklace to the Wendat — and possibly to the Seven Nations of Canada, a confederation of First Nations, including the Wendat, established along the St. Lawrence River — some time in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the Wendat became allied with the British in their conquest of northeastern North America. The central symbol of this wampum necklace represents a hatchet, delivered by British authorities to their Indigenous allies. By accepting it, the Wendat undertook to defend the interests of the King in the event of civil or military conflict. In this same spirit of mutual assistance, Huron-Wendat Grand Chief Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi took the wampum necklace to London during his meeting with King George IV in 1825. He intended it to remind the British of their military alliance with the Wendat and of England’s promise to protect and secure the Wendat’s enjoyment of their rights and privileges as well as the possession of their ancestral lands.

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This object resides at McCord Stewart Museum.

Cet article est paru initialement en français, en 2022, dans un numéro spécial intitulé 50 Merveilles de nos musées. Le numéro spécial hors-série faisait partie du Projet Portage, une initiative de cinq ans qui visait à favoriser l’échange d’idées et de langues, et ouvrir de nouveaux horizons aux prochaines générations d’historiens canadiens.

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