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Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (1840-1904)


Quotes from Chief Joseph

"The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us. Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers.

These laws were good. I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. I realised then that we could not hold our own with the white men. We were like deer. They were like grizzly bears. We had small country. Their country was large. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit Chief made them. They were not, and would change the rivers and mountains if they did not suit them.

Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers. These laws were good.

They told us to treat all people as they treated us; that we should never be the first to break a bargain; that it was a disgrace to tell a lie; that we should speak only the truth; that it was a shame for one man to take another his wife or his property without paying for it. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit made them.

Suppose a white man should come to me and say, Joseph, I like your horses. I want to buy them. I say to him, No, my horses suit me; I will not sell them. Then he goes to my neighbour and says, Pay me money, and I will sell you Joseph’s horses.

The white man returns to me and says, Joseph, I have bought your horses and you must let me have them. If we sold our lands to the government, this is the way they bought them.

I am not a child, I think for myself. No man can think for me.

If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect him to grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth, and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented, nor will he grow and prosper.

The earth and myself are of one mind.

We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets, that hereafter he will give every man a spirit home according to his deserts; If he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home.

This I believe, and all my people believe the same.

Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father’s grave. They do not pay for all my horses and cattle.

Good words cannot give me back my children. Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves.

I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.

It does not require many words to speak the truth.

We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God, as the Catholics and Protestants do. We do not want that. We may quarrel with men about things on earth, but we never quarrel about the Great Spirit.

I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. I will tell you in my way how the Indian sees things. The white man has more words to tell you how they look to him, but it does not require many words to seek the truth.

Too many misinterpretations have been made... too many misunderstandings...

The Great Spirit Chief who rules above all will smile upon this land... and this time the Indian race is waiting and praying.

If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian...we can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike.... give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who is born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognised as men. Let me be a free man...free to travel... free to stop...free to work...free to choose my own teachers...free to follow the religion of my Fathers...free to think and talk and act for myself."


Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here
to dispose of us as you see fit.
If I thought you were sent by the Creator,
I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me.
Do not misunderstand me, but understand fully
with reference to my affection for the land.
I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose.
The one who has a right to dispose of it is the one who has created it.
I claim a right to live on my land and accord you the privilege to return to yours.
Brother, we have listened to your talk coming from the father in Washington,
and my people have called upon me to reply to you.
And in the winds which pass through these aged pines
we hear the moaning of their departed ghosts.
And if the voices of our people could have been heard,
that act would never have been done.
But alas, though they stood around,
they could neither be seen nor heard.
Their tears fell like drops of rain.
I hear my voice in the depths of the forest,
but no answering voice comes back to me.
All is silent around me.
My words must therefore be few. I can say no more.
He is silent, for he has nothing to answer when the sun goes down.

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