Brightening the Covenant Chain

International collaboration revealing globally significant cultures of diplomacy between the Crown, the Haudenosaunee and their neighbours in North America.

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Brightening the Covenant Chain: Revealing Cultures of Diplomacy Between the Crown and the Iroquois Confederacy. Press release and project launch.

Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, Standard Research Grant AH/T006099/1 (£931,000), 2021-24

People: Joy Porter, Charles Prior, Pekka Hämäläinen, Mark Walters, Dale Turner with artistic and interpretive contributions by Celeste Pedri-Spade and an immersive Soundscape of Haudenosaunee diplomatic orations by Thanyehténhas (Nathan Brinklow), Haohyoh (Ken Maracle) and Sakokwenionkwas (Tom Porter).

Project Partners: Georgian Papers Programme, the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the American Museum and Gardens (Bath), the North American Native Museum, King’s Digital Lab, Johnson Hall Historic Site (New York), and the Northeast Native Research Collaborative

Postdoctoral Research Assistant (Archival): Dr Laura Gillespie
Postdoctoral Research Assistant (Digital): Dr Matthias Wong

Project Administrator: Rachel Dickens

‘Voices at the Edge of the Woods’

Recorded at Johnson Hall Historic Site, and in locations in the Mohawk Valley, this soundscape includes historic diplomatic speeches in Mohawk, songs from the Edge of the Woods, and the ‘ears, eyes and throat’ greeting from the Condolence Ceremony. For more and to listen to released tracks, see the project page.

Movement and Common Worlds Kinetic Map

Produced with King’s Digital Lab, this dynamic and fully inter-active map platform uses a custom database constructed from twenty historic maps in order to situate Native Nations at the centre of the political and spatial worlds of the American Northeast. For more, see the Project Page.

‘Brightening the Covenant Chain’ profiled in Research Features

‘Brightening the Covenant Chain’ was profiled in Research Features. See the full publication here, pages 94-97.

Clan Mothers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy

PDRA Dr Laura Gillespie is researching Clan Mothers absence in the written archive. She is working closely with contemporary Clan Mothers who continue to exercise vital political, social and spiritual power within their communities just as their counterparts did long before the era of “discovery”. For more information on Clan Mothers click here.

Image: Artist Carson Waterman, Snipe Clan.
Allegany Clan Mothers circa 1992
Picture Courtesy of Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center

Friendship Belt

Above are Haudenosaunee replica belts made by Ken Maracle (Cayuga Nation, Deer Clan) and a specially created Gasweh:da or Friendship Belt, made for the BtCC project. It was produced in the spirit of once again ‘brightening’ the Covenant Chain between the Haudenosaunee and the British Crown.

Wampum belts are tools of Indigenous diplomacy, living symbols of promises made by treaty between peoples. The BtCC team is highly honoured to begin this research project with such a powerful reminder of ongoing right relationship and alliance between our respective nations.

Watch Ken explain the idea of wampum and the meanings of the belt’s features. Photo images courtesy of Rhonda Maracle.

Exhibition and Residency

Dress to Redress: Exploring Native American Material Culture
Featuring work from Material Kwe by Dr Celeste Pedri-Spade
The American Museum & Gardens, Bath UK
19 March – 3 July 2022
Artists’ Residency: 13 May – 4 June 2022

Dr Celeste Pedri-Spade, Anishinabe artist

Material Kwe uses the fashion arts to contend with how the Anishinabeg dealt with a history of destruction, appropriation and gendered violence. Within these communities, the fashion arts have been a frequent site of cultural and material appropriation, often to supply materials (such as beaver pelts) for the European fashion market. The work in this exhibition consists of 5 wearable ensembles that incorporate Anishinabe designs and materials with early colonial women’s designs and materials, in order to permit a more respectful relationship between past/present settler and Anishinabekwewag women.

‘The American Museum & Gardens is delighted to be part of the Brightening the Covenant Chain partnership. We are most excited to be hosting Material Kwe by the Anishinabekwe artist Celeste Pedri-Spade. The American Museum is renowned for its collection of Indigenous North American material culture, and this exhibition will realise a long-held ambition of ours to showcase items from our collections. We are particularly excited to also welcome Dr Pedri-Spade and her husband Robert Spade to the Museum for a one-month residency in the spring of 2022.

The American Museum is dedicated to shining a spotlight on the richness and complexity of American culture. We are currently working hard to bring voices to the fore that have been marginalised in the past. We are particularly keen to focus on improving our presentation and interpretation of Indigenous histories and cultures; a key aim in our recently reviewed Forward Plan’. Kate Hebert, Chief Curator, American Museum & Gardens

More information about the exhibition can be found on the American Museum & Gardens website.

Watch an interview with Dr Celeste Pedri-Spade on her artistic process, working with textiles, and celebrating the inspirational women in her community:

Curator Kate Hebert speaks about her experience curating the exhibition:

An online conference ‘Cultures of Indigenous Diplomacy‘ was held on 19 May 2022, 12:00 – 19:00 BST, to showcase reflections on themes linked to this exhibition. Scholars and practitioners engaged in interdisciplinary dialogue on intercultural expressions of diplomacy, through art and making, material culture including wampum, language and narration in Council speech, food, gender, and languages of law and sovereignty.

Geronimo Henry – Survivor

In the summer of 2023 we spent time with Geronimo, who spent 11 years in the Mohawk Residential School on Brantford, Ontario. We are working on a feature length podcast, and are also working with Geronimo to support his public engagement and schools work in Canada. Click to learn more.

Publications and Outputs

On this page we will collate the outputs from the project as we produce them. 

Pekka Hämäläinen, Indigenous Continent, The Epic Contest for North America (Liveright, 2022). Finalist of the 2023 PROSE Awards for Outstanding Work by a Trade Publisher. Longlisted for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Pekka shares his thoughts in an interview with NRC.

Indigenous Continent reviewed:

Charles W. A. Prior, Settlers in Indian Country: Sovereignty and Indigenous Power in Early America (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Joy Porter, ‘Treatied Space: North American Indigenous Treaties in a Global Context’ in The Routledge Companion to Global Indigenous History, eds. Ann McGrath & Lynette Russell (Taylor & Francis, 2021), 259-78.

Dale Turner, ‘On the Politics of Indigenous Translation: Listening to Indigenous Peoples In and On Their Own Terms’, in the Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, eds. Brendan Hokowhitu, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Chris Andersen and Steve Larkin (Oxford & New York, 2021).

Research Programmes

Diplomacy and Treaties

International collaboration revealing globally significant cultures of diplomacy between the Crown, the Haudenosaunee and their neighbours in North America.

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Resource Use and Environmental Futures

New research on the roots of American Republican environmentalism, Canada’s green future, and sustainability in the space sector.

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Digital Storytelling

Digital resources that involve the public, advance research, energise teaching, and drive knowledge exchange, built in partnership with the UK’s foremost research software engineers.

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Political Ecologies

Timely interventions that examine the power relations between Indigenous actors and the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

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Globalising Archives, Museums, and Heritage Sites

Connecting significant national collections with their global Indigenous histories.

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New Treatied Spaces

Projects in development

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