Australia :: June '94 - March '95

Subject: Friday night beers--revisited.
Date: July 1, 1994 09:52

[Qualification: Nearly two years after first encountering the text that follows, I am beginning to piece together a clearer understanding of its origin. To begin with, the text below represents a 20th Century rewrite (with a liberal application of 'artistic' license) of a 19th Century event. For more information (and a more authentic text) see the Chief Seattle Resource page.]


8:05 Sydney, New South Wales--Australia :: 1 JUL 94

I'm really amazed that though I grew up in North America it would be on a suburban Sydney bathroom wall that I would find the following gem of a quote. Please tip your glasses to some savage wisdom.



In 1854, the "Great White Chief" in Washington made an offer for a large area of Indian land and promised a `reservation' for the Indian people.

Chief Seattle's reply, reproduced here in full, has been described as the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment ever made.


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 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.

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 family.


So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy 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 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 our 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. One portion of 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 father's graves behind, and he does not care.

He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care.

His father's grave, and his children's birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, 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.

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 the 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.

The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes.

Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.

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've 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 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 the beasts? If all the 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 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. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

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 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 friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.

We shall see.

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. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.

That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret 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.
The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

[Given the seeming non-sequitur relationship between title and topic here, perhaps an explanation is warranted.

To begin with, this eMail wasn't written as a journal entry. I just tacked it in here because it fit so well. Back when I was still a Microserf, the weekly task of organising a table at the local beer hall large enough to hold that Friday's contingent of over-worked and thirsty techno-dweebies somehow fell into my hands. It was probably just something that needed to be done and when volunteers were called for I forgot to step backward with everyone else. "We have a winner!"

So every Friday around noon, as soon as I got into work, I'd send out practically company-wide eMail (the Vancouver office had < 150 employees) requesting a Friday Nite Beers RSVP. Sometime around 4 that afternoon, I'd count up the replies and fax a reservation to Moose's, handily just kitty-corner to our office at Hornby&Dunsmuir. The reservation was always twice the number of replies since only half the people who ever showed up bothered to RSVP.

Now, somehow I got into the habit of tacking a quote or two onto the tail end of the invitation. I don't know, probably out of boredom, and probably just because I like to shake people up (I prefer quotes that rattle the common sense of reality). Well, before long people who never came out on Friday Nights requested to be on the distribution list. If I came in just the teensiest bit later than my usual start, say 1PM, my inbox would always contain one or two eMails: Where are the quotes?. But the part I liked best was getting quotes back. One guy had an amazing memory of Shakespeare and he'd often fire back something from a sonnet or soliloquoy that dove-tailed into whatever theme I'd picked that week. (Yep, quote themes.)

Anyway, it made the task more interesting for me and sometimes that week's quotes became the focus of conversation later in the bar.

Now back to the explanation. I just happened to find the little tidbit above on a Friday in Sydney. It seemed an entirely appropriate, if somewhat lengthy, quote for Friday Night Beers so out of nostalgia that's what it became. When it later became amalgameted into the Nomadic Spirit , I just didn't bother changing the original subject.]