Chief Seathl told us of a way to live, a model to emulate, in his letter to Franklin Pierce, President of the US, in 1854:
“… 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 memory 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 …
…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.
…When the last red man has vanished from this 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 newborn 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 with all your strength, with all your mind, 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. We may be brothers after all. We shall see…”
(many translations exist; this one from Ed McGaa’s book, Mother Earth Spirituality)
About that same time, Lakota Holy Man, Nicholas Black Elk, in his youth was given a powerful vision. He was shown the beauty and the flourishing of the earth. He was also shown what would befall the earth if we did not live in the manner that Chief Seathl described. He had great despair. And he was reassured: “to the four quarters you shall run for help, and nothing will be strong before you….” Toward the end of his life, remembering his vision, and knowing the suffering of the earth and all creatures, he prayed: … “from the south (you have given me) the nation’s sacred hoop and the tree that was to bloom. To the center of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother… it may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds…Hear me in my sorrow for I may never call again. O make my people live.”
- Black Elk Speaks, John G. Neihardt
It is just over 150 years since these wise men spoke. In this short time how have we come to lose our way, how have we contaminated our bed, how have we nourished the little root of the sacred tree? Chief Seathl and Nicholas Black Elk were individuals with powerful visions that have survived and still may inspire us to individual and collective action. Let us hope our actions come in time that the people may live and the earth may flourish.