The First Treaty is With the Land
An agreement grounded in Indigenous legal traditions, the Dish with One Spoon is one of several Wampum that guides the relationship between the Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Today it is held up by Indigenous Peoples in Toronto as a peace agreement between the Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee. The Dish with One Spoon is also widely cited (and admired) for the reciprocal responsibilities with all of creation that it foregrounds, a reading that draws on the more general metaphor of the land as a dish to be shared and cared for to ensure ongoing sustenance and life – principles that lie at the heart of Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and other Indigenous legal traditions.
(Or kettle or bowl)
A shared dish is a metaphor used widely in Indigenous diplomacy across the Great Lakes region and eastern North America. It appears in treaty relationships and alliances in many Indigenous contexts, including the Great Law of Peace, which unites the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy through the teachings of their Peacemaker.
Once the Five Nations agreed to unite, the Roianeson [Hereditary Chiefs] sat in a circle to listen to the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker expressed this principle by passing around a bowl of beaver tail, a delicacy among the People of the Longhouse. As the leaders sat in this circle of fifty, the Roianeson took only what they needed, knowing the bowl had to complete its circle.
What is the Dish with One Spoon?
The dish can symbolize the bounty of the earth that feeds and nourishes all and the care, sharing, and cooperation necessary to ensure life continues. This is expressed in agreements to hunt together or share food resources, such as was related by Anishinaabe Wampum Keeper Miskwaake/Yellowhead in relation to fishing at Mnjikaning:
At the Narrows our fathers placed a dish with ladles around it, and a ladle for the Six Nations, who said to the Ojibways that the dish or bowl should never be emptied.
A shared meal was an embodied act involved in peacemaking.
Every Indigenous nation has its own language to describe the set of lifeways to which its citizens adhere to live ethically, as cocreative beings who support life even as their lives are supported within the creation. Mino Bimaadiziwin is the Anishinaabe term for this concept. In some dialects, you may see it expressed as bemodezewan, pimaadisiiwin, and so on. Living a “good life” is not understood by Indigenous People as a life replete with ease, excess, and luxury, as it is for most people in the developed world. Rather, Mino Bimaadiziwin describes a way of living well, so that all life forms within creation also live –and live well.
Here in Toronto, a rich biota/natural world abounding with medicines and teeming with life was consciously sustained by the various steward nations through practices that included polyculture, mindful hunting and harvesting, ceremonial observance, and controlled burns. By these means, these nations maintained the health of this land, ensuring that it remained neepawaa – a place of plenty – for thousands of years.