Sunday, February 27, 2005

For the dead are not powerless

[03/04/05 Edit: Chas Clifton offers a reality check. See details in the comments.]


A little Sunday morning inspiration attributed to Chief Seattle's 1853 Treaty Oration. Yes, the US National Archives casts some doubt on the origin of his words (does that surprise anyone?), but to me it does not matter. The sentiment is precise and true, be it history or myth. Besides, are they not the same thing in our hearts?

There was a time when our people covered the whole land
as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor.
But that time has long since passed away
with the greatness of tribes now almost forgotten.

[..]The ashes of our ancestors are sacred
and their final resting place is hallowed ground,
while you wander away from the tombs of your fathers
seemingly without regrets.

[..]Your dead cease to love you
and the homes of their nativity
as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb.
They wander far away beyond the stars,
are soon forgotten and never return.

Our dead never forget the beautiful world
that gave them being.
They still love its winding rivers,
its great mountains and its sequestered vales,
and they ever yearn in tenderest affection
over the lonely-hearted living,
and often return to visit and comfort them.

[..]Every part of this country is sacred to my people.
Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove
has been hallowed by some fond memory
or some sad experience of my tribe.
Even the rocks,
which seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun
along the silent shore in solemn grandeur
thrill with memories of past events
connected with the fate of my people,
the very dust under your feet
responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours,
because it is the ashes of our ancestors,
and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch,
for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.

[..]And when the last Red Man
shall have perished from the earth
and his memory among white men
shall have become a myth,
these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe
and when your children's children shall think themselves alone
in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway,
or in the silence of the woods,
they will not be alone.
In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude.

At night, when the streets of your cities and villages
shall be silent and you think them deserted,
they will throng with the returning hosts
that once filled and still love this beautiful land.

The white man will never be alone.
Let him be just and deal kindly with my people,
for the dead are not powerless.

2 Comments:

Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

"Some doubt" is putting it mildly. Try this news story.

3:24 PM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Hey Chas Clifton!

Very pleased to see you here.

Thank you for the link. Very informative.

Much of the article's debunking centers around this line: "I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairies left by the white man who shot them from a passing train." The article points out the plain fact that "there were neither buffaloes nor trains anywhere near Chief Seattle during his lifetime which ended in 1866" and this line was later added by environmentalists with an agenda. (Hmm.. even that co-opting of Seattle's speech sounds like stereotyping at work. I now envision Seattle as the Crying Indian from those 1970s commericals.

The version of the speech I chose to quote did not include these recent additions, and so I didnt address them specifically. I did admit that the original speech is as much myth as it is history, so perhaps someone like yourself might in fact understand best how myth might function as inspiration. And it was indeed inspiration, and not history, that I chose to invoke in my post.

I will say though that what I liked about your contribution the most was this little fact: "Chief Seattle was a Roman Catholic. He owned eight Indian slaves, freeing them after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. He was a great orator and warrior against other Indian tribes. He was born in 1786."

If that's all true, and I hope it is, we get the chance to make the man a little more real and a little less Crying Indian. Wouldnt that be nice.

4:25 PM  

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