The Iroquois Indian Museum and Mike Tarbell

The Iroquois Indian Museum and Mike Tarbell

Hello everyone,

Today I visited the Iroquois Indian Museum and was able to record my first interview with Cultural Interpreter Mike Tarbell. Mr. Tarbell is Turtle Clan Mohawk and has worked closely with the Iroquois Indian Museum¬†for a number of years. At the museum, Mr. Tarbell presents a Native voice alongside the numerous Haudenosaunee paintings and artifacts, speaking upon their importance within his culture. When not at the museum, Mr. Tarbell, a veteran himself, works with the Wounded Warrior project across the country. Though he does find it hard to pull himself away from the museum, for it has become like his “mother’s home.” After the break, I have included some specific examples pulled from our conversation today.

Mike Tarbell, Cultural Interpreter

In our discussion, Mike opened with wampum as “bookmarks.” For him, wampum were markers used to aid the remembrance of a significant historical event. On the table, he had pulled out replicas of the Hiawatha and Two Row belts and pointed to their significance in Haudenosaunee history.

He then moved on to describe wampum strings, and some belts, as symbols of position or message. This shows the versatility and multi-dimensional usage of wampum outside of my treaty-focused research.

In 1988, Concurrent Resolution 331 was passed through the US Congress. It was a formal recognition of Haudenosaunne culture and the Great Law of Peace influence during the creation of the US Constitution. Mr. Tarbell spoke at length about this, but I wanted to highlight his message on Thomas Paine and the influence of Haudenosaunee language.

And, finally, I wanted to present Mr. Tarbell’s emphasis on the “continuum” or continuity of Haudenosaunee culture. In our interview, Mr. Tarbell focused on the fact that nothing ends within Haudenosaunee tradition: no deaths, no goodbyes, etc. Everything continues within this world. He then applied this concept to the Native treaty process as compared to the European process.

Some of the wampum Mike Tarbell personally owned.
Some of the wampum Mike Tarbell personally owned.

For the full interview, download this file:


It was a great visit and I learned a great deal I had not know prior. It also opened me up to some nuanced cultural perceptions of what wampum and Haudenosaunee world-view are.

All the best,


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