Thus, Spoke Chief Seattle: Eco Ministry
The Powerful Story of An Undocumented Speech
Chief Seattle's Famous Speech 9Excerpt) to President Franklin Pierce. An important and perhaps one of the most profound statements on the Environment
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
A Holistic and Ethic version of Our Environment
In 1854 the Great White Chief in Washington, President Franklin Pierce, made an offer to buy 2 million acres of land occupied by native people in the Northwest, and promised a reservation, for the Indian People. Below is a translation of excerpts from Chief Seattle's (Chief Sealth) reply to President Franklin Pierce in December of that year. Chief Seattle’s reply presented here in full has been described as one of the most beautiful and prophetic statements on the environment ever made.
“When he sat down, Chief Seattle arose with all the dignity of a senator who carries the responsibilities of a great nation on his shoulders. Placing one hand on the governor’s head, and slowly pointing heavenward with the index finger of the other, he commenced his memorable address in solemn and impressive tones.“
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? 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 experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.
The white man's dead forgot 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 horses the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crest, the juices in the meadows the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes buy our land, be 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. We will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.
Mankind and Nature are ONE.
This shining water that moves in the streams and the 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 ghastly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people; The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
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 yours, and you must from now on 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 fathers' graves, and his children birthright is 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 a desert.
Life is valuable, Life is Sacred.
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 the 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, cleansed by rain or scented with the pinecone.
The air is precious to the red man. For all things share the same breath: the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white men, 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 received 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.
Compassion and Respect are vital Ethical Principles.
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 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 a man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our 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. 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.
Great Spirit is One of Compassion
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 upon its Creator. The Whites, too, shall pass, perhaps sooner than 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 the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted out by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.[Note: Native Americans believed that Washington was still alive and that King George was the ruler of England.]
The Controversial Statements:
The absence of any contemporary evidence (the territorial newspaper at Olympia is silent about any dramatic statement by Chief Seattle in 1855), the lack of a Duwimish-language text of the speech, the absence of notes by Dr. Smith, the silence on the part of persons known to have been present during meetings between Stevens and Seattle, and the failure of the speech to appear in the official treaty proceedings create grave doubts about the accuracy of the reminiscences of Dr. Smith in 1887, some thirty-two years after the alleged episode. Thus, it is impossible (unless new evidence is forthcoming) to either confirm or deny the validity of this powerful and persuasive message placed in the mouth of an Indian sachem. As of now, the verdict must be that of the ancient Scottish jurisprudence: "Not proven."
Chief Seattle 1787 – 1866