Our people greatly value wampum. Wampum beads or strings are used to call a council, seat council members in the correct order, speak at the council, elect a chief, or depose a chief. For an adoption ceremony, during mourning, and as records and deeds.
Each important treaty signed between the Iroquois and other nations was commemorated by creating a Wampum Belt.
Sometimes as many as Forty wampum Belts were exchanged at a single council. Likewise, every law passed by the Iroquois council was recorded with a certain string or belt of wampum. The treaty or law that went with that particular wampum was memorized by certain trained individuals.
Twice a year the Wampum Keepers, at a special council would gather the people and hold each wampum string or belt up for all to see. He would then recite the message or law that went with that wampum. After reciting its meaning the belt or string was passed from person to person among the entire gathering so that its design and meaning would always be remembered.
According to oral tradition,wampum was introduced to the Iroquois by Hayewatha at the time of the founding of the League of Five Nations. Hayewatha decreed and regulated its use. He taught the Five Nations that wampum should bring and bind peace and take the place of blood. The Peacemaker, Deganawidah, used wampum to console and symbolically 'wipe away the tears' of Hayewatha when he was in grief over the loss of his daughters. This was the first Condolence ceremony. According to Mohawk tradition the first wampum was made from the quill of an eagle.
As Wampum became more plentiful it was used more and more until it came to be regarded as something sacred. The early settlers discovered that wampum beads were a very valuable trade commodity and quickly learned to mass produce it. This is where the common misconception comes from that Wampum was money. Some Europeans used it as currency but the Natives never did.