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International Socialist Review Issue 39, January–February 2005

Tecumseh speaks

"Sell a Country? Why Not Sell the Air?

IN 1810, Tecumseh faced Governor William Henry Harrison to bitterly protest the land sales of 1805—1806. He said they were effected by the use of strong liquor, a breach of the Treaty of Greenville. He refused to enter the governor’s mansion. There is a kind of radical egalitarianism in his vision of Indians holding all land in common and his desire to "level all distinctions." Below is taken from the statement Tecumseh made to the governor.

HOUSES ARE built for you to hold councils in; Indians hold theirs in the open air. I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take only my existence. From my tribe I take nothing. I have made myself what I am. And I would that I could make the red people as great as the conception in my own mind, when I think of the Great Spirit that rules over us all…. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear up the treaty. But I would say to him, "Brother, you have the liberty to return to your own country."

You wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as the common property of the whole. You take the tribes aside and advise them not to come into this measure…. You want by your distinctions of Indian tribes, in allotting to each a particular, to make them war with each other. You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this. You are continually driving the red people, when at last you will drive them onto the great lake, where they can neither stand nor work.

Since my residence at Tippecanoe, we have endeavored to level all distinction, to destroy village chiefs, by whom all mischiefs are done. It is they who sell the land to the Americans. Brother, this land that was sold, and the goods that were given for it, was only done by a few…. In the future we are prepared to punish those who propose to sell land to the Americans. If you continue to purchase them, it will make war among the different tribes, and, at last I do not know what will be the consequences among the white people. Brother, I wish you would take pity on the red people and do as I have requested. If you will not give up the land and do cross the boundary of our present settlement, it will be very hard, and produce a great trouble between us.

The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now–for it was never divided, but belongs to all. No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers…. Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?

How can we have confidence in the white people?

When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you killed Him and nailed Him to the cross. You thought He was dead, and you were mistaken. You have Shakers among you and you laugh and make light of their worship.

Everything I have told is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me.

Source: Frederick Turner III, ed., The Portable North American Indian Reader (New York: Penguin, 1987), 245—46.

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