When the US government inquired about the buying of tribal lands from Seattle, the chief of the American Indian tribe inhabiting in modern Seattle in Washington State, he is said to have sent a marvelous letter to the President.
The letter shows how far the so-called ‘aborigines’ are considerate towards nature and the environment, and how profoundly they feel that life is connected to all forms of nature. Chief Seattle, being one of the last to speak of moral values coming down from the Paleolithic age, voices his great concern over the issue, in about 1852, at a time when the problems of the greenhouse effect of global warming had not yet been heard of.
The following is an excerpt from his letter;
“ The President of Washington sends words that he wished to buy our lands. But how can you buy or sell the sky? 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 meadow, every humming insect, all are holy in the memory and experience of my people.”
“We know the sap which course through the trees, we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer and the great eagle, all these are our brothers.
The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow and the body heat of the pony and man, all belongs to the same family. The shining water that moves in the streams and the rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors.
If we sell you our land you must remember that it is sacred. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters 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 my brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother.”
“If we sell you our land 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. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.”
He foreshadows what we as individuals as well as nations would do in our technological age by polluting air, water, food and environment.
“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That this is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all sons of the earth.”
“This we know, that earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. 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.”
He continues further to stress the monotheistic belief common to them as well as to Christians.
“One thing we know, our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.”
“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffaloes are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires?
Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to swift pony and the bunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. When the last red man has vanished with his wilderness and his memory is only shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be there? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?”
“We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you received it. Preserve the land for all children and love it as God loves all.”
As Chief Seattle predicted, has not the end of living and the fight for survival begun?
Adapted from Power of Myth pp. 34, 35
By Josap Cambell with Bill Moyers
An Approach to Buddhist Social Philosophy-238-241