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Thursday, 26 December 2013

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky; Chief Seattle's Address

In 1884 or 1885 a speech was given and a letter sent to the president of the United States  about the state of the land being purchased from the Indians by the government, it has been attributed to a Native American chief of the time a certain Chief Seattle, although it is unlikely that he actually gave the speech or wrote the letter (Clark 1985). Regardless of where the words originate they contain some interesting thoughts;

"what will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men....... It will be the end of living, and the beginning of survival" (Jenkins 1993).

I think it's interesting that someone thought the 'taming' of the wilderness would lead to a state of survival and that the way of life of the Indian tribes (which nowadays would probably be considered survival in terms of the subsistence nature of their lifestyle and the methods they lived by) was living. Why do we have it the other way around nowadays? Why is our total dependence on intensive agriculture, supermarkets, refrigeration, electricity etc considered part of  living when we are dependant on so much which is completely out of our control.
Could giving people a taste of bushcraft and 'primitive' skills break the dependence on technology? Or at least promote a better understanding of alternative ways of living, based on nature rather than fighting against it.

Remember though that ultimately hunter gatherer peoples who practiced these skills as a way of life lived/live in much less dense populations than most of us do, for example the current population of the UK (approximately sixty three million) could not support itself by primitive means. Not necessarily due to a lack of necessary skills in the general population (although that is also true) but for a number of reasons including the fact that such a large population would not be able to migrate to take advantage of local, seasonal resources. The depletion of woodland and the disruption of food chains would also be a factor which would make survival without agriculture impossible for such a large population.


Clark, J (1985) "Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of An Undocumented Speech"  Prologue  Magazine, NARA, Vol. 18, No. 1, available from;

Jenkins, S (1993) Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. New Ed. Puffin

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