The environmental statement made by Chief Seattle is the disrespect and exploitation of the earth and its resources by the white man. The earth should be perceived not as the horn of plenty that can always share its resources with people but as an entity that requires respect. The sacredness of the earth is forgotten by the white man and exploitation results in damage and waste that lead to contamination and death.
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The repetition is used in this speech to emphasize the major themes that Chief Seattle uses to draw the listener’s attention: the sacredness of the earth, the difference between the white man and the Indian, the pricelessness of nature, and the relatedness of all people to each other. Additionally, the repetitions also serve as rhetorical devices that fuel the pathos of the speech, making the idea of buying and acquiring a land pointless. At last, the Chief uses repetition to support the main idea of the statement: the importance of nature and respect for it.
The repeating length of the sentences, the use of the same words and similar phrases make the speech sound like a prayer or a chant. The use of phrases such as “I do not know”, “the Indian does not understand”, “we are connected/brothers” makes the tone of the statement both melancholic and hopeful, with the underlying tone of uncertainty and concern (both for the future of the tribe and the earth). At the same time, short sentences make the statement look like an appeal, possibly to other, future generations.
While the white man’s religion (Christianity) is monotheistic, the religious views in the speech relate to animism, the belief that objects, places, and creatures have spiritual essences. Chief Seattle emphasizes that although they do not understand the deeds of their God they do not want to own him; owning, in this case, means believing that the God approves of the actions the white man takes. Unlike the white man, the Indian understands that each creature, place, and object has a “soul” that should be respected and that connects each living being to another.
It seems that today Chief Seattle would notice that the earth already revenges the white man for his actions using catastrophes and hurricanes to respond to exploitation. He would also emphasize that the white man will eventually suffocate in the waste, as he predicted, and destroy others (animals, other tribes) with him. Chief Seattle would also disapprove of the lack of faith among white people and their inability to believe that God, not the white man, is the master of the earth.
Chief Seattle appeals to the white man to remember that the lack of spirituality can result in a catastrophic death of the world (nature) as we know it. The white man’s belief that he “owns” God results in his disrespectful actions toward the land and water, massive slaughter of animals, and deforestation. Chief Seattle asks the white man to remember that God is the father of this world and might punish the white man for his impudence one day.
The conclusion shows that the world of the white man cannot be seen as living because it is a constant fight for survival (against others or oneself). It is effective in emphasizing that the white man’s actions lead to bloodshed or a battle rather than peaceful existence.
Both Chief Seattle and Stafford (1960) emphasize the turning points (although different) of humanity. The use of the atomic bomb can also be seen as “the end of the living and the beginning of survival”. The lizard that is waiting for history to happen can be imagined on the reservations of Indians, observing the future decades of violence against Native populations (Stafford, 1960). Both the speech and the poem focus on the verge that might lead to humanity’s end.
Stafford, W. (1960). At the bomb testing site. Web.