Saying of dubious provenance, use

There are several variants, all of dubious provenance

Saying of dubious provenance, use

Re: “Will we only realize what we’ve done when too late?”, (Citizen, Nov. 22)

The writer cites an anachronistic “Old Cree saying” which is almost certainly not an old Cree saying, unless your idea of old sayings is 40 years ago, give or take a few years.

It’s impossible to determine if the person who invented it was actually Cree, but it’s likely they were not. There are several variants, all of dubious provenance; but the most common one differs from the one published: “When the last tree has been cut down, when the last fish has been caught, only then will we realize we cannot eat money”.

“Poisoned rivers” was almost certainly added by Greenpeace, as it doesn’t appear in the earliest known citations. Overfishing is a legitimate concern, but cutting down trees clears land that can be used for farms — resulting in the opposite of having nothing to eat but currency. So, the next time you run into a pithy old saying, question it. There are better ways to motivate people than tricky phrases and thought-terminating cliches.

April J. Gibson


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