A Dish With One Spoon

What would happen if everyone just took what they needed and made sure they left enough behind for others? That is the concept of a Dish With One Spoon.

A Dish With One Spoon, also known as One Dish One Spoon, is a law used by Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes and northeastern North America to describe an agreement for sharing hunting territory among two or more nations. It was often mentioned by Indigenous peoples while making treaties with one another to avoid violent conflict. The “dish” represents the land that is to be shared peacefully and the “spoon” represents the individuals living on and using the resources of the land in a spirit of mutual co-operation. This meant that one Nation could not dominate resources at the expense of another. Peoples sharing the territory were expected to limit the game they took to leave enough for others, and for the continued abundance and viability of the hunting grounds into the future. According to the dish with one spoon philosophy, all parties to a treaty would simply share the land while maintaining their Nation’s sovereignty.

Very simply, there are three key rules of the Dish With One Spoon:

  1. Take only what you need
  2. Share or leave something for others
  3. Keep the dish clean

Even though A Dish With One Spoon was included in treaties with European powers, the concept was not accepted by settler governments. European settlers were more accustomed to the idea of private land ownership, and had trouble accepting and/or understanding the new concept. So, while Europeans and settlers believed these treaties gave them permanent control over the land, Indigenous peoples believed that they would be sharing the land.

Recently, many scholars and Indigenous peoples have come to believe that the dish with one spoon concept can raise awareness regarding ecological and environmental sustainability. One of the core values within the idea of a dish with one spoon is that those who use the land should not abuse the land.

Dish With One Spoon Wampum

The Dish With One Spoon wampum was exchanged at ceremonies to remind the parties of the agreement to be good stewards.

The wampum uses purple and white beads that represent friendship and peace. The purple ‘dish’ represents the Continent (Turtle Island) and all the different Nations. The white centre represents the tail of a beaver, or the resources of Turtle Island.

~ written by Marion Thomson Howell