“The treaty that took place there was one that represented the hope of mutually beneficial co-existence in peace,” said Pastor John Norwood, a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape council member and a board member of the Penn Treaty Museum, sponsor of the Tree Celebration. (To learn more and see a full schedule of events, visit the museum's website, http://www.penntreatymuseum.org
William Penn's sons broke that promise – notably through the trickery of the Walking Purchase (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/things/4280/walking_purchase/478692
) - but Norwood said his people believe it is not too late to honor the treaty. For example, school children could learn more about the alive-and-well culture of his people, he said. Some elements of that culture will be demonstrated with singing, dancing and drumming during the tree celebration.
The treaty that was signed beneath the Great Elm and other examples of American Indian governance were a source of inspiration to those who crafted American democracy, said Gregory Schaaf, director of the Center for Indigenous Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.
“When I went to college, they said our Founding Father's ideas came from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. But if you spoke out against the leaders of Rome, they put you in the coliseum and let the lions eat you. That doesn't sound very democratic to me,” said Schaaf, who will talk about wampum belts, peace trees and the Treaty of Friendship in a talk at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on March 4.
Schaaf, who is part Cherokee, said that chiefs who came after Tamanend became friends and advisors to people like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin – who wrote a book on the history of American Indian treaties. Native Americans gave John Hancock a name – Karanduwan, which means The Great Tree of Liberty, he said. The Founding Fathers learned how the Native American systems of government worked, Schaaf said. One striking difference between early American democracy and that used by the Native Americans is that Native American women had a huge role in governance. For example, women had a role in important tribal decisions, including whether or not to go to war, Schaaf said.
In 1987, Schaaf, along with Iroquois chiefs and representatives of other American Indian nations testified about these particulars before the U.S. Senate's Select Committee of Indian Affairs. Both the Senate and the House passed a resolution recognizing that American Indian people directly influenced the U.S. Constitution, he said.
In 1983, Schaff was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York City. Beforehand, he sought the advice of elders from six different Indian Nations. They suggested the creation of a world-wide program through which people would plant one billion trees as symbols of peace. The elders were thinking about the Great Elm at Shackamaxon when they suggested the tree as a peace symbol, said Schaaf, co-founder of the Tree of Peace Society.
A tree is a great symbol for peace because “the tree symbolizes the gift from the Creator,” Schaaf said. And also because if people plant and care for trees, they receive so many gifts in return, including shade and clean air, he said. “We haven't reached our goal yet, but over 200 million trees have been planted by many environmental and peace organizations,” he said. “I just received word from the government of India that they are committed to planting 100 million trees in their country.” For more information on peace trees, see www.treeofpeacesociety.info.
On the exact date of the 200th anniversary of the fall of the tree, March 5, Temple University's Eva Monheim, senior horticultural lecturer, will speak about the Penn Treaty Tree and the American Elm in general at the Philadelphia Flower Show.