Chief Seattle’s Letter

In 1855 American Indian Chief Seattle is said to have written this letter, in  response to a request from President Franklin Pierce to purchase land from Seattle’s tribe. It is highly unlikely Chief Seattle wrote it. Nevertheless its sentiments are highly moving. Here are some sections from it.

“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 insects wings.

But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand.

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 wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh…

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 have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from the passing train…But what is man without 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…

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…This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to 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…

Every part of the 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 earth 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…

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 treats his mother the earth, and his brother the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or beads…

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.”

 

On the authenticity of the letter see Jerry Clark, “Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of an Undocumented Speech” in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Spring 1985, vol. 18, no. 1 and an article at http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/fake.html