A Strand in the Web of Life

blasingame.james@gmail.com Uncategorized Leave a Comment

I grew up in some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring country on earth in America’s Northwest. I doubt there are many people who have a greater appreciation for protecting the environment than I do.

So, when President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord a couple of weeks ago, and the media went nuts (surprise, surprise), I thought back to my college days in Corvallis, Oregon. Back then, the Willamette River smelled so bad, you didn’t even want to get close to it. Today, you can drink straight out of it.

The fact is, the United States is already a global leader in maintaining a clean environment and setting greenhouse gas emission standards. Our nation doesn’t need to turn over trillions in taxpayer dollars as payola for other nations to “agree” in principle to reduce emissions – while China and India continue to treat the environment as their personal toilet in order to produce cheap goods that undermine the US economy.

President Trump was right when he called the Paris Agreement a bad deal that imposes financial and economic burdens on the American people. That opinion shouldn’t brand me as being anti-environment, though for some, it certainly will.

Recently, I came across what has been described as the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment ever made. It’s powerful, and the ideas expressed in it should forever be a guide for our nation’s environmental policy.

In 1854, the “Great White Chief” in Washington (U.S. President Franklin Pierce) made an offer to purchase 2 million acres of land occupied by native people in what is now the American Northwest. The offer included a reservation for the Indian people.

Chief Seattle, the Suquamish and Duwamish chief whom the city of Seattle is named after, was credited with providing this published response to the offer from the US Government. It’s worth the read:

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 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.

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 family.

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves.

He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land.

But it will not be easy. For the land is sacred to us.

This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors.

If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people.

The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers: they quench our thirst. The rivers carry 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. 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 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, cleaned by a midday rain or scented with the pinion pine.

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. 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 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.

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 don 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 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 are 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. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know. All things are connected like blood which unites one family. 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.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as a friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *