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Volume 1 | Issue 3 | October 2006 | 

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky


Letter sent by Red Chief Seatle of the Suwamish tribe to President Francis Pierce of the United States of America in 1855


The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land.
The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and goodwill. This is
kind of him, since we know that he has little need of our friendship in
return. But we will consider your offer, for we know that if we do not do
so, the white man may come with gun and take our land. What Chief Seatle
says, the Great Chief in Washington can count on as truly as our white
brothers can count on the return of the seasons. My words are like the
stars - they do not set.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is
strange to us. We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of
the water. How can you buy them from us? 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. The shining water that moves
in the streams and rivers is just not water but the blood of our
ancestors. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to
walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it
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

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
nights 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 father's graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the
earth from his children, and he does not care. His father's graves and
his children's birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth,
and his sister, 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. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of a red
man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a primitive and does not

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 insect wings. But perhaps
because I am a savage and do not understand - the clatter only seems to
insult the ears. And what is there to the ears if man cannot hear the
lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the argument of frogs around a pond at
night? 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 the midday
rain, or scented with pine. The air is precious to the red man, for all
things share the same breath - the beasts, the trees, and man. The white
man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying from
many days, he is numb to the smell.

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 receives 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.

If we decide to accept your offer, I will make one condition. The white
man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers. I am a savage and
do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes
in the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.
I am a savage and 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 beasts? If all beasts were gone, men would die from great
loneliness of the 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 your 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 it to himself.

Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat. Our warriors have
felt shame. After defeat they turn their days to idleness and contaminate
their bodies with sweets, food, and drink. It matters little where we
pass the rest of our days - they are not many. A few more hours, a few
more winters and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived
on the earth, or that once roamed in small bands in the woods, will be
left to mourn the graves of the people once as powerful and hopeful as

One thing we know that the white man may one day discover. Our God is the
same God. You may think that you own him as you wish to own our land. But
you cannot. He is the God of men. 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 other tribes. Continue to contaminate
your own bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the
buffaloes are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the sacred
corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the
ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Gone. Where
is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift and the
hunt? - the end of living and the beginning of survival.

We might understand if we knew what was it that the white man dreams, what
hopes he describes to his children on long winter nights, what visions he
burns into their minds so that they will wish for tomorrow. But we are
savages. The white man's dreams are hidden from us. And because they are
hidden, we will go on our own way. If we agree, it will be to secure the
reservation you have promised. Then perhaps we may live out our brief
days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from the earth, and
the memory is only a 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.

If we sell 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
take it, and with all your strength, with all your might, and with all
your heart, 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.











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