I’m back. Have you missed me? I’ve been in Branson at the Wilderness Club. While there we visited the new Old Mill in Dogwood Canyon. If you haven’t been there, add it to your bucket list. On the wall in one room is a blown-up copy of a response attributed to Chief Seattle in 1854 to President Franklin Pierce’s offer for a large area of Indian land that would involve the establishment of a reservation for the Indian people. No copy of the original response exists and there is no proof of what Seattle really said. Over time several versions have been printed that attempted to capture the essence of the message. It doesn’t seem important to me who wrote the response or how many had a hand in it. I think it is an important document that speaks to the heart of an issue we all need to reflect upon. Johnny Morris presented one version in 1995 as part of a commencement talk at University of Missouri. Here is how it begins.
“THE EARTH IS PRECIOUS
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 this 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.”
This is less than half of the document, but I think it’s enough to give some idea of the philosophies that separated the two chiefs at the time, and a reminder of how important our national parks are today to people of all faiths and beliefs.