In 1854, the “Great White Chief” in Washington made an offer for a large

area of Indian land and promised a ‘reservation’ for the Indian people.

Chief Seattle’s reply, published here in full, has been described as the

most beautiful and profound statement on the environment ever made.

Chief Seattle Speaks

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is

strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle

of the water, how can you buy them?

All Sacred

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine

needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing

and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The

sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to

walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it

is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of

us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great

eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the

meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man Ñ all belong to the same

family.

 

Not Easy

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy

our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve

us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our

father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy

our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This

shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but

the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it

is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that

each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tell of events and

memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my

father’s father.

Kindness

The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our

canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember,

and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and your, and

you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any

brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One

portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who

comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is

not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on.

He leaves his father’s grave, and his children’s birthright, are

forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as

things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His

appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only desert. I do not

know. Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities

pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a

savage, and does not understand. There is no quiet place in white man’s

cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle

of an insect’s wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not

understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there

to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the

arguments of the frogs around a pond at night? I am a red man and do not

understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the

face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday

rain, or scented with the pinion pine.

 

Precious

The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath Ñ

the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white

man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many

days, he is numb to the stench. But if we sell you our land, you must

remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit

with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first

breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must

keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to

taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow’s flowers.

One Condition

So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I

will make one condition: The white man must treat the beasts of this land

as his brothers. I am a savage and I do not understand any other way. I

have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white

man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and I do not

understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the

buffalo that we kill only to stay alive. What is man without the beasts?

If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of

spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All

things are connected.

The Ashes

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet are the

ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your

children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your

children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon

the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: The earth does not

belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are

connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are

connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man

did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he

does to the web, he does to himself. Even the white man, whose God walks

and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common

destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know,

which the white man may one day discover our God is the same God. You

may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you

cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man

and the white. This earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to

heap contempt on its Creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner

than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night

suffocate in your own waste. But in your perishing you will shine

brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and

for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red

man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the

buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners

of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills

blotted by talking wires.

Where is the thicket? Gone.

Where is the eagle? Gone.

The end of living, and the beginning of survival.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

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