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How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?

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In 1854, the United States Government aggressively offered to buy 2 million acres of land occupied by native people  in the Northwest.  Below is a translation of excerpts from Chief Seattle’s (Chief Sealth) reply to President Franklin Pierce in December of that year.

His speech has been described as one of the most beautiful and prophetic statements on the environment ever made.

“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 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….”

    “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 the newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat.  So, if we sell our land, love it as we’ve 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 take it.  And preserve it for your children…”

From: Children of the Earth

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