I found an old file from my days as a paralegal student at Central New Mexico Community College, where I graduated in 2010. It was on an old thumb drive that I had long since forgotten contained work from those days.
I wrote this essay as a look at the American justice system in contrast to the justice system of the Native Americans. It still speaks to me as I reread what I wrote, so I thought I’d post it for you all.
Like the Stars that Never Change
I stand outside on an autumn morning, lifting my face to the warming sun and smelling the scents of damp soil and wood burning fires on the soft breeze. An exuberant child has picked a bunch of late pansies and they adorn my path. Stooping to retrieve them, their bruised purpleness stains my fingers and their ebbing perfume touches the air in a silent sigh. As I stand here I become part of the sun, part of the soil and the burning wood, and part of the flowers that lie in my hands. Chief Seattle, in the speech he wrote for the signing of the treaty of Port Elliott, knew this well and his belief that every part of the soil is sacred (190) warns us that it is imperative that we understand that we cannot separate ourselves from our fellow brothers and sisters because we, and everything that surrounds us, are a part of all that has been and a part of all that will be.
We cannot separate ourselves from our fellow human beings any more than we can choose to breathe in only certain particles of the air that surrounds us. Chief Seattle and his people understood this, knowing that we are all brothers and sisters on this earth even though we try to separate ourselves from others and attempt to endow our deities with attributes that enable us to see ourselves as different from, or superior to, others. We do not usually choose to fade away and die, and yet we know that one day the sun will rise on a world that can no longer see us. This does not mean that we are no longer here; our very being breaks down and becomes part of the energy force that drives life on this planet. We breathe in the human race; everyone we ever loved, everyone we have never consciously known, and everything on this planet we call home becomes part of who we are.
The Native Americans whose multitudes once lived in freedom across this nation believed that no one can own the land on which they walk; we belong to the earth and the earth belongs to us all. This precious earth provided food, shelter and clothing for countless generations of people who revered the land and the gifts it gave. They ate what they killed and used what they could not eat to clothe themselves and provide shelter for their families. Semi-precious stones, animal bones, and birds’ feathers were fashioned into adornments in celebration of the beauty around them.
Just as the Native Americans did not waste or destroy the earth on which they lived, their system of justice, handed down by their ancestors, is designed to rehabilitate rather than to punish, drawing the community back together. Believing that offenders should be given a chance to repent and make amends allows healing for all parties involved, including the community which regains a contributing member. In stark contrast, America’s retributive system punishes offenders, breaking spirits and breaking lives, leaving them with the belief that can never again be a part of the community.
Seattle speculates that we may be brothers after all (190) and I believe this is correct. While we delude ourselves that we, as Americans, are different or superior, we are a part of all that is, all that was, and all that will be. Chief Seattle tells us that there really is no death, only a change of worlds (191); the difference between the seen and the unseen. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can understand each other more fully and truthfully as members of one human race, putting our differences behind us and living harmoniously as brothers and sisters on this orbiting miracle we call ‘Earth.”
Chief Seattle. ”Speech on the Signing of the Treaty of Port Elliot, 1855.” Mercury Reader. Ed. Patrick Houlihan, Alan Pope and Geri Rhodes. New York: Pearson. 2009. 188-191. Print.