The rivers are
our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our
canoes and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you
must remember 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 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 fathers’ graves, and his children’s
birthright is 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 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.
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 insect’s
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 a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the
whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at
night? I am a 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, cleansed by rain or scented with
the pine cone.
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 men, they all share the same breath. The white man does
not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for
many days, he 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 received 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 meadow’s flowers.
So 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 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
your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our
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. 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 one day discover --our God is the same God. You may
think now 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 upon 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 out by talking wires. Where is the
thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.
following is from an article by Jerry L. Clark that documents the
falsity of the claim that Chief Seattle wrote this letter. You
can read the full text of his article at http://www.nara.gov/publications/prologue/clark.html.
really make any difference today whether the oration in question
actually originated with Chief Seattle in 1855 or with Dr. Smith in
1887? Of course it matters, because this memorable statement
loses its moral force and validity if it is the literary creation of
a frontier physician rather than the thinking of an articulate and
wise Indian leader. Noble thoughts based on a lie lose their
nobility. The dubious and murky origins of Chief Seattle's
alleged 'Unanswered Challenge' renders it useless as
supporting evidence. The historical record suggests that the
compliant and passive individual named Seattle is not recognizable
in the image of the defiant and angry man whose words reverberate in
why would we include a letter of obviously false origin on
our site? Because no matter what the source, this
letter raises some very important points concerning our
relationship with this planet, and can get us to think in
new ways about where we fit in and how we should treat our
home planet, our brothers and sisters, and ourselves.