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Woven Words: Native Scholars Illuminate Wampum Histories and Traditions at Penn Symposium on October 1 and 2

PHILADELPHIA, PA, 2015—“Wampum belts,” in the American imagination, are often regarded as objects of history and mystery. Many people think of wampum as “money,” a stereotype that harkens back to the early 1600s, when Dutch and English colonists used wampum beads as a convenient substitute for European currency. During the late 1800s, antiquarian collectors handled wampum belts as though they were artistic relics.

Yet wampum is so much more.

Stephanie Mach and Lisa Puyo, Penn graduate students in anthropology, examining the Kanehsatake “Two Dog Wampum” belt in May 2014, at the McCord Museum in Montreal, Quebec. Photographs by Margaret Bruchac.

On Thursday October 1, 4:00 to 9:00 pm, and Friday October 2, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Penn Museum visitors can learn more about wampum when prominent Indigenous scholars from the United States and Canada join with wampum scholars and musicians for a free two-day symposium, Woven Words: New Insights into Wampum and Native Studies. Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) and Algonkian scholars will share insights on historical and contemporary aspects of wampum construction, artistic expression, and cultural
exchange for sacred, diplomatic, and decorative purposes.

Woven Words is hosted by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Penn (NAIS), with support from the Penn Museum. Sponsors include the Penn Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Provost’s Office, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Anthropology, and Natives at Penn.

Keynote Address and Program

Richard W. Hill Sr. (Tuscarora), Coordinator of Deyohaha:ge Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations in Ohsweken, Ontario, opens with the keynote address, “The Inherent Intelligence of Wampum.”

Noting how “wampum captures the words, messages and meaning that the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) considered essential for future understandings, relationships and ways of being,” Hill explores the iconongraphy of wampum belts and their metaphorical significance to his people. In his talk, he considers how wampum “works in passing on the voice of the ancestors, and also provides inspiration for the current (and future) generations of Haudenosaunee.”

Other speakers include wampum artisan Darren Bonaparte (Akwesasne Mohawk); Alan Corbiere (Anishinaabe), Coordinator of the Anishinaabemowin Revitalization Program at M’Chigeeng First Nation; Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), Director of Native American Studies at Cornell University; Christine Abrams (Seneca), Chair of the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Repatriation; and Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), Chair of the Five College Native American Studies Committee, Amherst College.

Members of the Penn "Wampum Trail" research team will also discuss original scholarship and share insights on wampum 
in museum collections. Other activities include: wampum-weaving workshop; storytelling performance; and Haudenosaunee 
social dance with members of the Native North American Traveling College from Akwesasne. The full schedule is online.

On the Wampum Trail

Margaret Bruchac (Abenaki), symposium organizer, is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Chair of the Faculty Working Group on NAIS, as well as leader of the Penn “Wampum Trail” research project, organized with funding from the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department. She explains more about wampum:

“The term ‘wampum’ derives from the Algonquian ‘wampumpeage,’ meaning ‘white shells.’ These luminous beads, carved out of white whelk and purple qhahog shells, form the foundation of a complex system of indigenous ritual and diplomacy. For generations, the Algonkian and Iroquoian nations of North America have employed indigenous technology to craft wampum beads and weave them with sinew, hemp, and leather into belts and collars.

From an indigenous context, each wampum belt represents a nuanced mix of material, artistic, symbolic, and diplomatic meanings best known to the communities who created and exchanged these objects. During the 1700s, wampum belts were also embraced by European leaders as effective instruments for recording and reinforcing inter-cultural agreements and alliances. Wampum diplomacy is very much alive today, in rituals of condolence, narratives of sovereignty, artistic expressions, and other practices of survivance.”

An evocative Haudenosaunee “path” wampum belt—designed to mark a clear path among and between Native nations for the conduct of diplomacy—is currently on display in the Museum’s special exhibition, Native American Voices: The People—Here and Now.

About the Penn Museum

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 350 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

The Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn's campus, across from Franklin Field). Public transportation to the Museum is available via SEPTA's Regional Rail Line at University City Station; the Market-Frankford Subway Line at 34th Street Station; trolley routes 11, 13, 34, and 36; and bus routes 21, 30, 40, and 42. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and first Wednesdays of each month until 8:00 pm. Museum admission donation is $15 for adults; $13 for senior citizens (65 and above); free for U.S. Military; $10 for children and full-time students with ID; free to Penn Museum Members, PennCard holders, and children 5 and younger.

Meals and refreshments can be purchased with or without Museum admission in The Pepper Mill Café; the Museum Shop offers a wide selection of gifts, books, games, clothing and jewelry. The Penn Museum is on the web at For general information call 215.898.4000. For group tour information call 215.746.8183.

Photo Caption: Stephanie Mach and Lisa Puyo, Penn graduate students in anthropology, examining the Kanehsatake “Two Dog Wampum” belt in May 2014, at the McCord Museum in Montreal, Quebec. Photographs by Margaret Bruchac.

To the media: High resolution photographs are available upon request. Margaret Bruchac, symposium organizer, available for advance inquiries. Contact the Penn Museum Public Relations Office, 215.898.4045.


Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director