American native Chief Seattle, in a famous speech in 1854 to an audience including the first Governor of Washington Territory the militaristic Isaac Stevens, said: “From Washington the President sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the land or the sky? 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? On the earth every part of it is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect are all holy in the memory and experience of my people. We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and people all belong to the same family.
“The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The rivers are our brothers and sisters. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother or sister. If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it sacred, as a place where man and woman can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers. This we know: the earth does not belong to man or woman, they belong to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. People did not weave the web of life; they are merely strands in it.
Whatever people do to the web, people do to themselves. We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.”
The native Chief Seattle’s words are wonderful and inspiring as the words of Holy Scripture. We are created to love people and use things. But in this modern selfish and greedy world most of us often use people and love things.
Such reflections need to come to mind as we mark the United Nations World Wildlife Day on Wednesday March 3. The 2021 theme is, “Forests and livelihoods: Sustaining people and planet.” In a statement, the UN says the theme is intended to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystem services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, and particularly of Indigenous and local communities with historic ties to forested and forest-adjacent areas. Between 200 and 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas around the world, relying on the various ecosystem services provided by forest and forest species for their livelihoods and to cover their most basic needs, including food, shelter, energy and medicines.
In Sri Lanka, besides economic and other crises, there are allegations that big companies have been allowed to cut down hundreds of acres of forests and begin development projects. Even the native people’s lands are being taken over and they have gone to the Court of Appeal with a writ petition to prevent big companies from taking over their lands for corn cultivation. Are we so corny? We urge Government leaders, company owners, environmental activists and others to reflect on Chief Seattle’s sacred words and love nature instead of abusing or