One day I was climbing over a fence from ‘our’ land onto a neighbor’s land. I was about 14.
That fence defined what was ‘their’ property and what was ‘ours.’ I mused about who owns what?
I wrote about it. I wondered how we could claim to own earth and forest and lake and spring.
These elements were here before we were born and will be here after we are gone.
I remember thinking that this place owned me much more than I owned it.
It was a profound and life-altering teenage moment. But I didn’t have a word to describe it.
Eventually, I learned that there is a word for the insight I gained that day: Stewardship.
I came to understand that I can steward any land. And all land. No ‘ownership’ required.
In fact, I grokked that no matter how much I might pay, I would NEVER own the land.
~ from “Who Owns What?” by Barbara Shipka, 2012. Based on a diary entry from 1960.
The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. 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 from us?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods. 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.
This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The air is precious for all things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. What is man without the beasts? If all 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.
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our 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.
The earth does not belong to man; man belong to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. 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.
If we sell you 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.
From the famous speech Chief Seattle made in 1854. It was originally translated from Duwamish by Dr. Henry Smith from notes he took at that time. In 1970, Ted Perry revised it, using Smith’s notes. The above words excerpted from Perry’s version found in Johanna Macy and Molly Brown’s book Coming Back to Life.
Photos by Barbara
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