Recently, I discovered that the Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrates a special feast day today, June 7, for Chief Seattle, one of my favorite historic figures of all time. Not to take anything away from the saints in other churches – their contributions are likely meaningful as well – but learning this great and interesting man is honored warms my heart.
Chief Seattle, known for his work to preserve the land and the Native American Culture, was part of the Duwamish tribe that made their home near Puget Sound in Washington. He was born around 1780, and died on June 7, 1866. What made me believe he was a great man was the letter he wrote to the American government when they were negotiating with the tribe to buy land. It included the simple words, ““The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.”
I never understood the concept of land ownership. Even as a child, before I knew Chief Seattle existed or wrote that letter, it seemed strange. The land has always been here, and it remains here after we’re gone. It’s bizarre to think that someone decided to claim a tract of land one day and call it his own, and people accepted it. Weirder yet, when they passed on, they were able to give it to someone else, as if it were jewelry, money, or even a house, and the vicious cycle began.
In our modern era it seems quite reasonable that people own the land. We buy the concept, too, because we need shelter. The housing market is crucial to our economy, and homeownership is a valuable investment for many families around the world. I support that, but I’d prefer it if we owned the home, and considered the land where it is built as borrowed. Alas, I know I am the minority.
I’ve never been the activist type, I’m not a radical, and I’m probably never going to join Green Peace. However, I respect in the wise words of Chief Seattle, who begged the question, how can you buy or sell the earth and the sky? I believe the world would be a much better place if its citizens would consider his question.