YouTube & Politics II

This is the second in a series of posts written by D. J. Mitchell and Susan Cain.

In the video above, a follower of the Rainbow Warrior movement merges the well-known words of Chief Seattle with prophesies from Hopi and other Native American tribes about a coming age of multi-racial, eco-friendly awareness.  The result: a message of eco-liberalism that links modern liberals with a rich and centuries-old Native American tradition.

Chief’s Seattle’s speech has been a pillar of environmentalism since the 1970s::

Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

There’s just one small problem: Chief Seattle never said those words .  That speech is a fictional account of what Chief Seattle might have said if he was an environmentalist, written by screenwriter Ted Perry for the 1972 movie “Home.”   It seems that disinformation is not limited to authoritarian foreign governments.

Chief Seattle did make a speech in 1854, and was said to be a great orator, but no transcript of his speech exists.  An eyewitness later reconstructed his impressions of the speech in flowery, Victorian English; that was later reworked to be truer to the language likely used by the Chief.  Here is an excerpt reconstructed from the eyewitness account, which is likely closer to what the Chief actually said:

[H]ow can we be brothers? How can your father be our father, and make us prosper and send us dreams of future greatness? Your God is prejudiced. He came to the white man. We never saw him, never even heard his voice. He gave the white man laws, but he had no word for his red children whose numbers once filled this land as the stars filled the sky. No, we are two separate races, and we must stay separate. There is little in common between us…

Men come and go, like the waves of the sea. A tear, a prayer to the Great Spirit, a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever. Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.  We may be brothers after all. We shall see.

It was indeed a powerful speech, filled with both bitterness and hope.  But it said little about ecology, and did not include those famous words, “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.”

Yet it is the fictional speech that not only survives, but carries the banner of eco-liberalism, pasted on signs and bumper stickers across the nation, which in turn gains legitimacy from its supposed roots in a centuries-old Native American tradition.

The Rainbow Warrior cult is a somewhat more extreme example. Websites about it abound, and cater primarily to white, liberal Americans.  It appears that in general, the Rainbow Warriors accept that they, white American liberals, will lead the world into its multi-racial future and forge it in their own image.  Consider: the philosophy draws from diverse Native American cultures a supposed single strand of thought.  Says Welcome Home :

Many people feel the birth of the Rainbow Family was foretold many,many years ago by various Native American tribes. Unfortunately, all of these tales are Oral Histories, so the specifics vary from version to version.

In other words, rather than recognizing the great diversity of Native American cultures, this philosophy limits itself to similar but varying strands within traditions, discarding what doesn’t fit, and viewing differences between them as tragic errors caused by faulty retelling of the stories.

And the pillar of that supposed Native American philosophy is a speech written by a 20th century white man.

Says one student of the history of the American West, who asked to remain anonymous,

“Many of Seattle’s alleged quotes refer to events that happened decades after his lifetime. Ted Perry’s fictional speech is very beautiful, but it is the thinking of a white Anglo fiction writer, not that of a historic American Indian leader. Indian values have been so confused by Hollywood fantasy that now Indian children believe this fantasy to be their culture.”

He also cautions,

“Be very careful. The PC [politically correct] public loves its warm & fuzzy fantasies about American Indians and they will be very angry at anyone who challenges them. They’ll probably call you a racist.”

Yes,many Americans would rather put words in the mouths of their Native Americans, words written by their own people that support their own politics.

As writers, we don’t oppose environmentalism.  But we do wish to point out that disinformation– in this case, an Anglo-Americanized fictional version of Native American tradition– is being used once again for political ends.

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