Chief Seattle's Letter and the Sacredness of the Earth

Chief Seattle was chief of the Suquamish Indians and allegedly wrote to the American Government in the 1800's. This is one version of that letter. Listen to the message. I think it is a message we are in need of hearing today.

CHIEF SEATTLE'S LETTER
"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. 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 the 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 courses through the trees as 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, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and 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 glossy 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 our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give 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 that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell 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.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the 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.

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 buffalo 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 with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? 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 receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."


After reading this passage I began thinking of my own experience days earlier that I wrote about. It reminded me of my own connection with the earth and how I would like to impart this message to my son Jonathan some day. My parents imparted this love of the earth through their gardening. My father would come home every night, take off his suit and put on his jeans and boots. He would carefully tend to each plant, watering, weeding, tying, fertilizing while my mother was picking what we would eat for dinner. That was what I remember most about growing up: how much we honored the earth and how important it was in our lives. I recognize that as a whole, we have lost our connection with the earth. Most of us are not growing our own food anymore and we have long forgetten how to make bread from grain or preserve our own fruits and vegetables.

I stay connected to many important things through gardening. My father is with me in memory as I tend to each plant. Time in the garden has become my meditation time, a way go within, be silent and just let go of any stress I may be holding. Every season it seems like I feel closer and more appreciative of my time with nature. I am amazed at the humbleness of dirt and the potential of life all held in one tiny seed. Nature is miraculous and I am always happy to play my very tiny part in the miracle. I am kneeling over the mounded dirt, poking holes gently and dropping tiny dried up peas into each hole, one after another. I pull the blanket of earth over each one and pat it down. The earth is warm, almost womblike as I pat it.

Next door the bells from the church are calling its members to come in and get close to God. They are hurrying with their shiny shoes and nice dresses. I smile as I look down at my worn out boots, ankle deep in dirt, my knees caked as I kneel to the earth in prayer and reverance for life's potential in the midst of a small pea. We are not too different after all except I see God everywhere in everything. I am feeling joyous, unhurried, feeling the sun and the wind, my hands in the dirt. I am happy to be simple and to be me in that moment awaiting the rain that will start new life and new growth beneath these worn out boots. I am awake watching, really seeing. I hope that I never take life for granted, that I never take the earth for granted. The earth is so precious and what we do with it we do to ourselves and to our children. And the words of Chief Seattle echo in my head..."the 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. "

And the bells chime again.