Education

Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, c. 1911


Historical Context
Native Americans used wampum beads to make belts and strings.  Beads were made from white and purple shells of the quahog clam.  They were put together in patterns to indicate important events.  The designs of wampum belts were memorized by elders; they were used as “written” records for the tribe to:

    -   call a council meeting

    -   speak at a council meeting

    -   elect a chief

    -   keep records and deeds

    -   show times of sorrow

    -   make a treaty official



Wampum belts were not used as money by the Native Americans.  When the beaded records were no longer needed, the belts were unstrung so that the beads could be used again.



The Onondagas were the Keepers of the Fire for the Iroquois League.  Since they were the "capital" of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Onondagas also were entrusted with possession of the wampum belts.
Essential Question
How does culture influence political interactions?
Check for Understanding
Describe the object and explain the role of this object in political negotiations.
[click to enlarge]
Native Americans. Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_35
Document Description
The Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, circa 1911.
Questions
  1. What shapes are on these belts?
  2. What do you think the belts are made of?
  3. What patterns do you see on these wampum belts? 
  4. Why were pieces of shells used to make these belts? 
  5. Why would Native Americans use wampum belts instead of written records to record important events?
  6. How would these beads have been used to tell some oral histories of the Native Americans?
Historical Challenge
Research the different uses for wampum and explain why they are now universally thought to have been used as money by the Native Americans.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Research different patterns used for wampum belts. Using graph paper, create a wampum belt using an original pattern.
Science: Look at different types of clam shells, including quahog shells. Why do you think the quahog shell was the favorite material for wampum belts.
English Language Arts: Use the design created in math to write or tell a tribal story to the class.
Resources
  1. Levine, Ellen. If You Lived at the Time of the Iroquois. Scholastic, Inc., September 1999. ISBN: 0590674455
  2. Tehanetorens, Ray Fadden. Wampum Belts of the Iroquois. Book Publishing Company, June 2000. ISBN: 157067082X
  3. Cornelius, Carol. Iroquois Corn in a Culture - Based Curriculum: A Framework for Respectfully Teaching About Cultures (Social Context of Education). State University of New York Press, June 1999. ISBN: 0791440281
  4. http://www.nativetech.org/wampum/wamphist.htm
  5. http://www.kstrom.net/isk/art/beads/wampum.html


  6. http://www.factopia.com/w/wampum_aiton.html
  7. http://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wpm_penn.html