Belfast Telegraph

Wisdom from ‘Wild West’ for troubled planet

Thought For The Weekend: Allen Sleith, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

Many in my generation and older were brought up on a diet of films about the Wild West.

The basic storyline was, to use the lingo of the time, that the 'White Man' had an almost sworn duty to subdue the savage 'Red Indians' who were a threat to the security and prosperity of the more cultured pioneers who simply wanted to settle down.

It was a narrative arc with little if any nuance, simple to the point of simplistic with binary presuppositions of goodies versus baddies almost totally centre stage.

Subsequent research has introduced a better balance in which the atrocities of both sides are acknowledged but where the Native Peoples deserve more sympathy.

Their way of life, though not beyond reproach, had a respect for and intimacy with the natural environment that now seems more vindicated than what we 'Westerners' have inflicted on creation in the past two centuries and counting.

I offer these words from a letter written by Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe to US President Franklin Pierce in 1854 in response to an offer to purchase their lands and relocate his tribe on a reservation: "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us... Every part of this earth is sacred to my people... The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.

"There is no quiet place in the white man's cities; no place to hear the unfurling of the leaves in spring, or the rustle of the insect's wing. The clatter only seems to insult the ears... All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth.

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"The white man too shall pass - perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste... (Now) is the end of living and the beginning of survival."

It hasn't all turned out as Chief Seattle wrote back then, but in light of our climate crisis and its massive multiple threats to our planet who, I wonder, showed the greater wisdom and prescience?

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