Chief Seattle (an Anglicization of Si’ahl), (Lushootseed pronunciation: [ˈsiʔaːɬ], originally [ˈsiʔaːtɬʼ]; c. 1780 – June 7, 1866) was a Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) chief, also known as Sealth, Seathle, Seathl, or See-ahth. A prominent figure among his people, he pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers, forming a personal relationship with David Swinson “Doc” Maynard. Seattle, Washington was named after him.
This excerpt comes from the book The Power Of Myth, based on the television series, whereby Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell. Campbell says, “Chief Seattle was one of the last spokesmen of the Paleolithic moral order. In about 1852, the United States Government inquired about buying the tribal lands for the arriving people of the United States, and chief Seattle wrote a marvelous letter in reply. His letter expresses the moral, really, of our whole discussion.”
Chief Seattle wrote:
“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 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 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 juices 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 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 our 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 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.
“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 by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
“When the last Red Man has vanished with his 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 all.
“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 brothers after all.”
Yes, obviously the sagebrush chronicles has been to Seattle.
And though we know you don’t need any more gravity, reform, responsibility or requests for personal activism for ANY reason… still we are forced by the integrity of our mission here to give you any historic background of our stories… when we can obtain it. In this case, we can. Chief Seattle, whether interpreted accurately here or not, made some excellent points about our remaining wild lands, and our responsibility to them. We have, in the passing of time, become the stewards of our wild and natural lands. The very least we can do is make our younger ones aware that soon they, too, will be the stewards of the remaining land and sea which is habitat to millions and millions of wild animals who struggle to survive, sometimes in much the same way our inner city folk struggle to survive in their habitat. Our young people’s vote is not important anymore… that has been taken away from us by corruption and greed. But their ideas, their dreams for a better world, their energies toward those goals for a better natural world… those are precious and we must encourage them and give them ammunition for their struggles ahead. It is about to be their world, and they need to know where we’ve succeeded, and where we’ve failed… and why.
The Sagebrush Chronicles is not a rant forum, and will not be. This is one of the rare special cases in which some info is needed for clarity. That a fine Northwestern city on the pacific coast is named Seattle could easily be celebrated and defined without any previous history. But we think this history is significant, and when we tell you of our impressions of the city of Seattle next week, we think you might agree with us… that the history of its name has had a lasting impression on its people, and therefore on its natural resources. It might appear that the city of Seattle is a fairly rare breed of city in 2011… although struggling with its own political struggles and ever-changing infrastructure… still, some amazing ground work has been laid there and preserved by some of their future-thinkers. And why not?? Microsoft – Google – Boeing – but no, those are late arrivals. the good work was already done. Done by whom? Maybe someone in the Seattle area will enlighten us.
Next week, my trip to Seattle. And no politics, no podium-pounding… just a simple cowboy visiting a REALLY BIG city… and being totally impressed.
3 Replies to “Seattle!!”
Joseph Campbell had a profound influence on my thinking at a time in my life when I was searching. His Power of Myth made sense. Having been born and raised in Seattle (Univ.of Wash, 1899, dinosaurs roamed the campus) I was happy to leave the rain and fog behind when I moved to San Francisco, which is still my favorite City in the entire world. But Seattle is my second favorite City. And I have learned there are worse things than rain and fog. So glad you were able to visit, and spend time on the history and landmarks of such a beautiful place. love, Karen
Chief Seattle’s words fall very much in line with a wonderful quote from John Muir that I ran accross this week: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” Even though I’ve spent my entire life in the Seattle area, I am not a city girl, but I am very proud to love and protect the trees and water and mountains and sky of Chief Seattle and all our brothers.
Hugs to you, Karen
Stevie; What a great beginning for sharing your view of Seattle. Now,
we Seattleites need to do more research on how many of us have tried
to maintain the integrity of our city, and can still comfortably call it home.
Thanks so much, Love.