Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How can you Buy or Sell the Earth?

Some years ago when we were in Rocky Mountain National Park, we bought a poster called "How can you Buy or Sell the Earth". Here's the story:

In 1854, the United States Government offered to buy two million acres of Native American land in the Pacific Northwest. The following statement on behalf of the environment was supposed to have been made by Chief Sealth (Seattle) in reply to President Franklin Pierce in December, 1854. It has been described as the most beautiful and prophetic statement on the environment ever made.

Note: There is some controversy about whether or not these words were exactly what the Chief said, but the words still hold a lot of wisdom, so I'd like to think they are true.

The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and good will. This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of 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 clearing, and every humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us...

This we know: 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. But we will consider your offer to go to the reservation you have for my people. We will live apart, and in peace.

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 on its Creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to 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, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where in the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. So we will consider your offer to buy the land.

If we agree, it will be to secure the reservation you have promised. There, perhaps, we may live out our brief days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from the earth, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people. For they love this earth as a newborne loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell our land, love it as we've loved it. Care for it as we've cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it. And preserve it for your children, and love it ... as God loves us all. One thing we know. Our God is the same God. This earth is precious to Him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all.

We shall see...

The words are deep with wisdom, and I wanted to frame the poster in a simple way that matches the sentiments expressed in it. So I bought some hemp twine, dark handmade paper and wooden sticks.

I painted the sticks and tied the poster to the sticks with twine, the way I've seen some Native American art framed. Here is how it looks now:

What do you think?


ArtSparker said...

This post reminds me of another one I saw earlier today, here


I am going to tell her about your post. I have framed things with two dowels, but not so beautifully as you have here.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

many thanks to artsparker for guiding me over to your most wonderful blog - and this most excellent post.

great framing of chief sealth's words of wisdom

Jude said...

Lovely, done in your own wonderful style. The sentiments are stunning, thank you

megha punater said...

what a stunning post.true words of wisdom.
thank you for sharing this.
i don't mean to offend anyone but the mentality of many (not all,some are gems)white people is to own and that i see everyday, living in europe. but the sad thing is that even the coloured people are becoming like that.when will all realise and truly learn to live like brothers only god knows?????

pink dogwood said...

This is so beautiful Bindu - the words and how you have framed them. I would love to have a copy of this hanging in my house - I will see if I can find one online.

great post as always.

Srividya said...

Beautiful and timeless. I have framed using dowels, but never occured to me to paint it. Now I can try.

3rdEyeMuse said...

I think you pegged it! What a lovely & thoughtful way to frame these beautiful beliefs ... simple & elegant.

question: am I correct in remember that the triangles you used actually represent mountains?

bb mcclain said...

After reading that a sadness came over me. He is right; We might tell ourselves we own the land but we are just stewards of God's earth and we'd better start taking care of it before it's too late, if it's not too late already.

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing this post. This is one of my favorite pieces of history as bittersweet as it is. True words then and today. I love how you framed this print.

bindu said...

ArtSparker, Kimy & Jude - thank you.

Megha - it's true that everyone is into owning more and more things and consuming more and more. Our eco-footprints are out of control. I am filled with despair the more I read and learn about how the world is changing ...

Bhavana - I hope you find it!

Vidya - knew you'd like it.

3rdEyeMuse - that's such a great idea! I just used the triangles because they felt right. I'm afraid I cannot claim I made them for that reason. :)

bb - I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel so helpless, especially when I read about habitat disappearing for animals and how thoughtlessly we humans harvest animals for our needs. Maybe it's part of a large plan, but I don't see it.

Chris - thank you!

Sunita said...

I love this quote. Maybe he didn't say these exact words or maybe he did. What matters now is that present and future generations can glean some wisdom from it. If they stop long enough to read it!

meb said...

What magnificent wisdom put beautifully in both print and your framing.

I truly had that emotional tug as I read this bindu.

Thanks so much for posting these types of entries, that I may never have seen or read, except for you.

LadyFi said...

That is just gorgeous: both the frame and above all, the wisdom and TRUTH of the words.

Blu said...

Lovely post, tinged with sadness. Nice way to hang the picture too!

Robyn said...

Whenever I read this I feel anxious. I like Sunita's comment.... maybe we can glean some wisdom from it. Thanks for posting, Bindu. We need reminders. Your framework is perfect!

A Tree Instead said...

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Barbara Martin said...

Bindu, I have only read part of his famous words. Thank you for providing the remainder.

~mE said...

i love the poster and the way you have framed it. Truely profound words