Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Can One Sell the Air?

When I first came to the west coast of British Columbia, I was struck by Nature's power. The pristine rugged beauty of her coastal mountains and majestic forests, dripping with lichen and moss, served a sharp contrast to the gently rolling dairy farmland I'd grown up with in Quebec. Where jagged land meets the cerulean ocean--churning and crashing against the rocks like a dreaming god--life thrives like no where else. The First Nations people fish here, where two worlds collide. They're used to that, two worlds colliding...where the clash of two cultures must somehow reconcile in a "give and take" dance, like two partners, madly clutched in a giddy reel. More give by one and more take by another, it seems to me...

Not long after I arrived here, I ran across a wonderful publication, written by white interpreters of what the red Indian has said. The following is a an excerpt: an insistent entreaty and ecological lesson as only a First Nations person could have worded it. It is aptly called, "How can one sell the air?"

The White Chief says that Big Chief in Washington sends us greetings of friendship and good will. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers the vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain.

The Great--and I presume--good White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our lands but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. We shall consider your offer to buy our land. What is it that the White Man wants to buy my people will ask. It is difficult for us to understand.

How can one buy or sell the air, the warmth of the land? That is difficult for us to imagine. If we don't own the sweet air and the bubbling water, how can you buy it from us?

Each pine tree shining in the sun, each sandy beach., the mist hanging in the dark woods, every space, each humming bee is holy in the thoughts of our people.
The sap rising in the tree bears the memory of the Red Man.
We are part of the earth and the earth is a part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters, the reindeer, the horse, the great eagle our brothers. The foamy crests of waves in the river, the sap of meadow flowers, the pony's sweat and the man's sweat is all one and the same race, our race. So when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wants to buy our land, he asks a great deal of us.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Actually, the beautiful air is priceless.

Nina Munteanu said...

Very well put, Jean-Luc! Priceless indeed! These people have the right idea about "ownership". I just wish it were practical to put into practice...but then there's the "tragedy of the commons"...Ah, human nature...