Our Blood is Sweet: The Wampum Belt Journey

An Excerpt


Editorial Note

This article was written from an interview with Joe Jacobs, conducted by Dr. Nancy Gibson in Kahnawake, June 2003. The interview was taped, transcribed, and the resulting article sent to Elder Jacobs for his approval before publication.

In 1996, I was having dreams. All I saw was people gathered all around with children. Finally, toward the end of 1996, it was clear what I was supposed to do. I guess wherever they came from, these messages finally made it to my heart and to my mind. My mind was open for me to accept that I had to walk the red path and try to help our people with diabetes.

The idea of a wampum belt came from my ancestors. When they made treaties or agreements with other nations, they always used a wampum belt as a record keeper. I figured, what better way to send a message from nation to nation than to put it on a belt like that? So, I decided to put it in the Mohawk language. I speak Mohawk but I can’t write it or read it. That is the way I was brought up. Both grandparents were speaking the language but when I had children, I never spoke it to them. And then, my daughter went through this immersion program and the language came back out again. She reads it and she can write it and also talk it. The Mohawk word I put on the belt is “Teiakonekwenhsatsikhe:tare” which means “Our blood is sweet.” Of course, it’s all in bead work. It took me about four hours to make it. The two paths at one end of the belt are the paths we need to follow for our future. Part of the message I deliver by walking with the wampum belt is that we have to get more active and living a healthier lifestyle. When I started everything, I got a few Elders to burn tobacco and to have a ceremony in the Mohawk language. Then I approached Alex McComber and Rhonda Kirby at the Kahnawake School Diabetes Prevention Program, telling them what I had to do. In the beginning, all I wanted them to do was to make arrangements with the police, so they would know what road I was walking on and what community I was going to. But then I said, “Let’s sit down and talk.” So we sat down, and they listened, and after that the whole community of Kahnawake was involved.

The community suggested that we get people together before starting to walk, so we did that. In June or July of 1997, we took the wampum belt to Akwesasne, on the American border. It took us two days and maybe fifty or sixty of us went. At the beginning, everybody had blisters. Now I walk, I don’t even get blisters anymore.

In Akwesasne, the belt was received by their diabetes program plus a few other people. After a few months, the people at Akwesasne biked with the belt to Tyendinaga. And that was two days. We even had some children in there, but I don’t really know how far they went. About six or seven of us from Kahnawake threw our bikes in a pick up truck and we caught up with them, along the way. We couldn’t go right from the beginning. And we were using our own money.

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