The Earth Does Not Belong to us; We Belong to the Earth

on November 24, 2016 | in Social Justice | by

When I was young, there was this book I used to read: Brother Eagle, Sister Sky.

I can still remember reading it day in and day out, creasing the edges of its smooth, brightly painted pages as my hands turned them over and over again like a song I’d known how to play since before my birth. Something about it felt like a poem to my soul. I loved that book so much.

It was a beautifully illustrated book depicting the last speech of Chief Seattle, “one of the bravest and most respected chiefs of the Northwest Nations,” before he sold their land to white settlers.

“How can you buy the sky?

Chief Seattle began.

How can you own the rain and the wind?

My mother told me,

Every part of this earth is sacred to our people.

Every pine needle. Every sandy shore.

Every mist in the dark woods.

Every meadow and humming insect.

All are holy in the memory of our people.


“My father said to me,

I know the sap that courses through the trees

as I know the blood that flows in my veins.

We are a part of the earth and the earth is a part of us.

The perfumed flowers are our sisters.

The bear, the dear, the great eagle, these are our brothers.

The rocky crests, the meadows,

the ponies — all belong to the same family.


“The voice of my ancestors said to me,

Every shining water that moves in the rivers and streams is

not simply water, but the blood of your grandfather’s grandfather.

Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells

of memories of the life of our people.

The water’s murmur is the voice of your great-great-grandmother.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst.

They carry our canoes and feed our children.

You must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother.


“The voice of my grandmother said to me,

Teach your children what

you have been taught.

The earth is our mother.

What befalls the earth befalls all the

sons and daughters of the earth.


“Hear my voice and the voice of my ancestors,

Chief Seattle said.

This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites us.

We did not weave the web of life,

We are merely a strand in it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.


“We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat.

If we sell you our land, 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 and the air and the rivers for your

children’s children and love it as we have loved it.”

Today, on a day of giving thanks, I’m choosing to spend the majority of my day in solitude, thinking.

I’m thinking about a lot of things: About the love I had as a young child for the earth, for animals, for the Native American culture. I’m thinking, too, about my ancestors and my own lineage, and how I came to be right here, as exactly who I am, on this very place on earth, at this very moment in time.

I feel sad about a lot of things happening in the world right now, and I cry tears of compassion and grief for all the injustice in the world — current, past and future — and for all the ways that I have contributed to them, directly or indirectly. I think about the history of our country and the future of our country and of the peaceful warriors holding strong at Standing Rock. I feel a deep need to honor and support our brothers and sisters in protecting the land and water that sustains us all. After all, says Chief Seattle in my beloved childhood book, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” It is an uncomfortable yet honest feeling to know that I am at once both a product of the Native Americans’ oppressors, and their sister.

I feel sad about some things in my own life, also, and I cry tears of unknown heartbreak, of felt abandonment, of eternal and mysterious longing. I have no idea where many of them have come from, but still, they come. And I let them.

I feel grateful, too. Grateful to be here in this home, in this city, in this body, on this couch, with this blanket and these dogs and this laptop and this mind. Oh, this mind! I feel grateful to have been born to the family I was, to have found the sense of community I have, and to experience the experiences that I am. And for all these things, I cry tears of gratitude.

I feel all these things and more. I cry all these tears and more.

And as I sit with it all — with this swirling mass of colors and sounds and sensations — I breathe it all in. I breathe in all the sadness, all the joy, all the compassion and the grief and the love — and as I breathe, my heart is at peace. In this moment I feel held by the earth, hugged by the sky, enveloped by the sun. The stars are my blanket.

In this moment, I know: I can hold this. I can hold this all.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I love you.

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[Image by Josephine Wall]

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  • Lei Lani Lucero

    Every year, I get engraved ornaments for my family of friends to hang n their trees – this year, they say:
    This breath
    This life
    This heartbeat.

    Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to sit in the felt abandonment, and heart-wrentching solitude, as long as I also hold the unbridled joy.

    • How beautiful, Lei Lani. I love that. <3

      And yes! I haven't found a way to truly let one in without also letting in the other. For me there is a strange beauty in being able to hold every corner of this entire range of feelings.

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