Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #184) Chief Seattle's Reply
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? That 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 and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory 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 - all belong to the same family. 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 the ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells us 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 cannoes, feed our children. If we sell our land, you must learn, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, 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 the 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 behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. 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 a desert. I do not know. Our ways are different than yours. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps 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 leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insects 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 man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night ? I am 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 mid-day rain, or scented by the pinon pine. 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 man does not seem to notice the air he breaths. Like a man dying for many days 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 meadows flowers. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I'll 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. You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is 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 discover one day - our God is the same God. You may think you know 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 the 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 beginning of survival.
There is really nothing left to say after that barrage of eloquence, except to quote a very interesting account of this "poem", at: [broken link] http://www.thehistorynet.com/WildWest/articles/02965_text.htm Given the elaborate ancestry of this poem, I thought it quite within my rights to do my own bit and created the line breaks and spacing that you see above. Most of it is to accomodate the stuff within 80 columns for people reading this on Unix terminals. The above-mentioned article follows. It is a trifle long, but definitely readable. Skim Chief Sealth's biodata in the middle to get through it faster. ------------------------ DID CHIEF SEATTLE REALLY SAY, 'THE EARTH DOES NOT BELONG TO MAN; MAN BELONGS TO THE EARTH'? BY PETER STEKEL AMONG THE Indians of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps none is as well known as Chief Seattle, who left the earth 130 years ago. Called Sealth by his native Suquamish tribe, the chief's fame largely rests upon a speech made popular during the heady days of the 1970s. It includes such inspiring lines as: "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." As early as 1975, the authenticity of these words was questioned. Although Sealth was an eloquent speaker, could his famous words belong to someone else? What we know of Sealth (pronounced SEE-elth, with a guttural stop at the end) and his life is mostly conjecture based upon myth with a little bit of extrapolated fact. That he was a was expected to share his largess with the rest of the tribe during a potlatch. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver anchored off Restoration Point on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Sealth, according to the recollections of various old-timers, often spoke of seeing the ship and being impressed with the guns, steel and other goods. Judging from these accounts, he must have been about 6 at the time. Vancouver was not impressed, writing in his log that the village was "the most lowly and meanest of its kind. The best of the huts were poor and miserable," and the people were "busily engaged like swine, rooting up this beautiful meadow." As a young adult, Sealth made his mark as a warrior, orator and diplomat. He worked to increase cooperation within the 42 recognized divisions of Salish people occupying Puget Sound, including his own Suquamish. In later years it was remembered that the old chief had a resonant voice that carried "half a mile" and that "eloquent sentences rolled from his lips like the ceaseless thunders of cataracts flowing from exhaustless fountains." In 1832, he impressed the Hudson's Bay factor at Nisqually, Dr. Fraser Tolmie. "The handsomest Indian I have ever seen," said Tolmie. In 1838, Sealth was baptized "Noah" by Father Modest Demers. One wonders if the saw this as one practical way to ascend to the white man's affluence. When the Denny-Boren party landed in 1851 to found their town on Puget Sound, Sealth was there to encourage the construction of a trading post. The post failed, but then Dr. David ("Doc") Maynard entered the picture in 1855. Maynard had left his wife of 20 years in Ohio to come west and make his fortune. Doc was a dreamer, and he saw dollar signs on the shores of Puget Sound. No sooner had he filed on a large piece of property, next to the Dennys and Borens, than he began to give it away to encourage growth. He opened a trading post along the shores of the Duwamish River, and one of his best customers was Sealth. They became such good friends that Doc named the new "city" after him, "Seattle" being as close a pronunciation as most white tongues would allow. The was less than pleased with the distinction, convinced as he was that, after dying, every time "Seattle" was spoken he would turn in his grave. The 1850s were a turning point for the Salish peoples in and around Puget Sound. As more and more settlers moved into the country, aggressively displacing the Salish, discontent rose within the various tribes. With the discontent came acts of violence on both sides, with the Salish increasingly on the losing end. In 1853, Washington Territorial Governor Issac Stevens, a man who believed in the late 19th-century philosophy of "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," began buying up or seizing Salish lands and removing the tribes to reservations. In December 1854, the governor visited Seattle, and Sealth made a speech lamenting that the day of the Indian had passed and the future belonged to the white man. On hand to take notes was Dr. Henry J. Smith, a surgeon with a penchant for florid Victorian poetry (his pen name was Paul Garland). In 1855, Sealth spoke again, briefly, at the formal signing of the Port Madison Treaty, which settled the Suquamish on their reservation across the sound from Seattle. His brief remarks have none of the elaborate pretensions of most speeches recorded during that era. As historian Bernard DeVoto noted, Indian speeches tended to reflect the literary aspirations of the recorder more than the orator. Three years later, an old and impoverished Sealth spoke one last time for the record, wondering why the treaty had not been signed by the Congress of the United States, leaving the Indians to languish in poverty: "I have been very poor and hungry all winter and am very sick now. In a little while I will die. When I do, my people will be very poor; they will have no property, no chief and no one to talk for them." This entire text, as well as Sealth's 1855 comments, are preserved in the National Archives. Until the 1970s, the story of Chief Seattle belonged to the city that bears his name. Then, with the environmental movement in full swing, the speech Sealth made to Governor Stevens in 1854 was resurrected into the consciousness of Americans. It is not difficult to find people who consider the speech to be on almost the same level as the Gospel. The modern versions of the speech, which has been called the embodiment of all environmental ideas, have references to things Sealth would have never seen or known about, such as trains, whippoorwills, and the slaughter of the buffalo (which occurred long after the 's death) are included. Comparisons between known versions of the text have turned up four main variants, each with its own phrasing, wording and sometimes contradictory content. The first version of the speech has been traced to a transcription made by Dr. Henry Smith more than 30 years after the actual event. Smith's is the original on which all others are based; it appeared in the October 29, 1887, issue of the said, based upon notes Smith had made at the time. Smith concludes with the comment, "The above is but a fragment of his speech, and lacks all the charm lent by the grace and earnestness of the sable old orator, and the occasion." Dr. Smith's diary cannot be found, so it is impossible to know just how closely his notes followed what Sealth had to say. Moreover, Sealth was a prideful man, and though he embraced the white man's commercial products, he refused to learn his ways or speak his language. Hence, it is safe to say that what Smith heard was a translation. It was probably made from Sealth's Lushotseed language into the Chinook jargon and then into English, with each transliteration losing or embellishing something of the original. In 1931, Clarence B. Bagley published an article and reproduced the Chief Seattle speech with his own additions. In 1932, John M. Rich published a booklet called is essentially the same as these two. The third major revision of the speech was done in 1969 by poet William Arrowsmith, who "translated from the Victorian English of Dr. Henry Smith" an interpretation that retains the 's meaning, if not the wording and phrasing. A fourth version displayed at the 1974 Spokane Expo, a shorter "Letter to President Franklin Pierce," and many other variations at about that time have a familial resemblance to the Smith text but begin to adopt an ecological view. In Smith's 1887 version, the natural world is the canvas upon which Chief Seattle's words are drawn. In the 1970s, the environment is the entire painting. The differences between the Smith version and the fourth version are striking, including the line, "Your God loves your people and hates mine," vs. "Our God is the same God." There are inspiring phrases, in the newer version, that the Smith transcription lacks: "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us....The rivers are our brothers....The air is precious...for all things share the same breath" and "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." For many years this fourth variant has been the accepted version of Chief Seattle's speech. So it came as some surprise when this last rendering was traced to a screenwriter, Ted Perry, for the 1972 movie a production of the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. Perry heard Arrowsmith read his 1969 version and with permission, used the text as the basis for a new, fictitious speech for a film on pollution and ecology. The film's producers revised Perry's script without his knowledge, removed his name from the film credits, sent off 18,000 posters with the speech to viewers who requested it, and glibly began the confusion we have today. Perry was not pleased. Ted Perry is now a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and has tried to set the record straight, but with little result. In a article in 1992, Perry mused, "Why are we so willing to accept a text like this if it's attributed to a Native American," and not to a Caucasian? Over the years, he has been embarrassed by his role in putting words in the mouth of Chief Seattle. "I would never have allowed anyone to believe that it was anything but a fictitious item written by me," he has said. Yet, Perry has also been pleased that his words have served as a powerful inspiration for so many others. "Would that this stimulus had not come at the expense of more distancing and romanticizing the Native American," he adds. The legend of Chief Seattle's speech may never die. Undoubtedly there will be many who refuse to believe that such fine and noble words and sentiments could have been made by a non-Indian during the 20th century--and for a television show at that. To allow any version of the speech to pass away would be to deny the magic and power of the words and their meaning. If something is true, it shouldn't matter who said it and when it was said as long as we recognize the source. What matters most is that the "Chief Seattle Speech" has something to teach us all: "So if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. We may be brothers after all." The chief died in 1866. His grave lies in a little cemetery behind the historic St. Peter's Catholic Church in the hamlet of Suquamish on Washington's Kitsap Peninsula. Through tall Douglas-fir trees toward the west, visitors can gaze across mist-covered Puget Sound on warm summer days. With the snow-clad Cascade Mountains on the far horizon as background, the tiny bumps of downtown Seattle rise like headstones.