local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 last week
 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info

 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs



Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8065 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


Mountain Jobs

Formula Sports

Idaho Conservation League



Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

For the week of July 24 - 30, 2002

Opinion Column

Chief Seattle: and the sons of the earth

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

Both fans and critics of the supposed words of Chief Seattle are, in my opinion, a bit off base.

"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 themselvesWe 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 fathers' graves behind and he does not care. His fathers' graves 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 desert … What is man without the beasts? If the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected."

These words are well known among the environmental activist community, and they pop up from time to time in mainstream America. They are attributed to Chief Seattle, the great leader of the indigenous Suquamish people of what is now Washington State, and were part of a letter written to President Franklin Pierce in 1854 and a speech given in 1855 lamenting the end of his people’s traditional way of life with the arrival of the voracious and environmentally insensitive European. They are words of obvious wisdom from the head of a native people who lived on the land thousands of years before the late arriving white man took it over. Among environmentalists they are words to live and create land use policy by. They have the ring of deep truth to them, and, like many who believe in deep ecology, environmental integrity, large areas of wilderness, free-running streams free of cow manure and urine, and national parks without snowmobiles, I am among those who like the romantic imagery of these words coming from a noble chief of an American Indian tribe.

The problem, as most people familiar with Chief Seattle’s speech know by now, is that Chief Seattle never spoke, much less wrote, those words.

For fans of Chief Seattle’s speech and its underlying meanings, most of whom are environmentalists and prone to romanticize the lives of Native Americans, that is a big problem.

For critics of Chief Seattle’s speech and its underlying meanings, most of whom are in logging, ranching, farming, mining, snowmobiles, ORVs, SUVs and land development and prone to romanticize the lives of modern Americans, it is evidence of a hoax and the fraudulent premises of environmentalism.

Both fans and critics of the supposed words of Chief Seattle are, in my opinion, a bit off base. While Native Americans certainly kept far better care of the land we live on than do modern Americans, the environmental movement does them a disservice to romanticize their lives and put them on an ecological pedestal from which they will fall or be pulled down by those foes of environmental ethics who refuse to take responsibility for the present state of the natural world. While critics of Chief’s Seattle’s bogus speech/letter are correct in denouncing its inauthentic attribution, they are disingenuous to pass over the genuine wisdom in the words, no matter where they originated. Though the Chief never wrote the President, he did give a speech in 1855. In fact, he gave two speeches at the Port Elliott Treaty negotiations that year. Dr. Henry Smith, a physician, took notes at those speeches which he translated into English and published as a single speech of Chief Seattle in the Seattle Sunday Star of October 29, 1879. No one knows how accurate Dr. Smith’s rendition of the Chief’s words is, but it is reasonable to assume that Smith came as close as he could. We do know that Chief Seattle was a great leader of his people who tried to live peacefully with the white man and in harmony with the world, though in younger days he had been a fierce and intelligent warrior for his tribe.

In 1969, William Arrowsmith rewrote Smith's version into more modern English, but the essential content of the speech was unchanged. A couple of years later, a screenwriter named Ted Perry asked Arrowsmith's permission to use his version of the speech in a film script he was working on. It was a film designed to raise people’s awareness of the earth’s ecology. Perry correctly called the speech he wrote a fiction, but the film producers did not credit Perry for the writing of Chief Seattle’s speech, thus beginning a huge misunderstanding that persists today.

Perry’s fictional speech is what we know today as Chief Seattle’s speech. I have seen it printed as "Chief Seattle’s Statement On Ecology." Even though it’s fiction, it’s a worthy statement and well worth studying and incorporating into an environmental ethic for America. Just because Chief Seattle didn’t say it doesn’t mean the speech attributed to him isn’t full of wisdom and deep truths.

Ted Perry’s statement on ecology, with credit given to William Arrowsmith, Henry Smith and Chief Seattle, is a beautiful and profound (and practical) expression of a workable environmental ethic. It should be required reading for every citizen. Just these few words — "…the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth" — is an environmental ethic to live by.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.