In 1854, Chief Seattle of the Duwanish tribe in Washington Territory sent this letter to U.S. President Franklin Pierce to mark transfer of ancestral Indian lands to the United States government:
The President in Washington sends word he wishes to buy our land. But 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 the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people. We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins.
We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family.
The 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. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters 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. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.
We know the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the 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 birthplace is forgotten.
There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect wings. But perhaps because I am 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 lovely cry of the whippoorwill, or the arguments of the frog around the pond at night?
If we sell you our land, 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 recieves his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
This we know. The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites us all in one family. Will you 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.
When the last Red Man has vanished with his wilderness and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prarie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. 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 the tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. Your destiny is a mystery to us.
What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses all tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
We love this Earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have 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 recieve it. And with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart, preserve the land for all your children, and love it, as God loves us all.
As we are a part of the land, you too are part of the land. This Earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he Red Man or White Man, can be apart. We are brothers after all.