Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary by Chief Seattle’s
Chief Seattle who was the native American leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes of Washington, delivered his speech in January of 1854. His speech was given to his people when American colonisers wanted to buy native land of his tribe and in return offered them amnesty, and the right to live there. As an old Chief who had seen natives killed, he reluctantly accepted the offer since he believed, turning it down will only result in the total annihilation of his tribe.
His speech was both consolatory in nature, helping his people to understand what was going on, their weak position in the political climate and helping them to understand the transition they were now forced to make. He even mentions how Canada’s borders are now being controlled by King George but their ‘Big Chief and ‘Father’ is now a White man who sits in Washington. The speech delivered by Seattle is considered a legendary speech by Native Americans as it sums up their plight in front of American Colonisers.
The speech delivered by Seattle was published in the Seattle Sunday Star, October 29, 1887, by Dr. Henry A. Smith. Smith is said to have taken notes as Chief Seattle spoke in the Suquamish dialect, and then transcribed the text in English from his notes. The last two sentences of the text here given have been considered for many years to have been part of the original, but are now known to have been added by an early 20th century historian and ethnographic writer, A.C. Ballard. The most important fact to note is that there is no verbatim transcript in existence.
All known texts are second hand. Smith makes it very clear that his version is not exact a copy, but rather the best he could put together from notes taken at the time. There is an undecided historical argument on which native dialect the Chief would have used, Duwamish on Suquamish. Either way all agree the speech was translated into Chinook Jargon on the spot, since Chief Seattle never learned to speak English.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary Introduction
Chief Seattle was an important figure in the early American History. He was the Chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, fighting for the rights of his native people in the face of American Colonisers. He was the powerful leader of Red Indians in the Puget sound area. He wanted to put his people at ease and corporate with the White settlers at the same time. White people get the land they wanted from Seattle and Seattle brings comfort to his own tribe by talking to them about the real nature of living to them.
The speech which was delivered by Seattle in January, 1854, was a formal response to Governor Stevens’ proposal’ to acquire the land of Red Indians. Smith published the speech from what he claimed were his notes taken at the time.
According to H.A. Smith, Chief Seattle is in front of a crowd gathered by Governor Isaac Stevens to discuss the sale of native land to the white men. While delivering his speech, Seattle thanks the white men for showing sympathetic attitude and generosity by allowing him and his people a place to live peacefully and comfortably.
Chief Seattle begins his speech with a positive change in the native Red Indian’s fives. He says that nature has been kind and sympathetic for his people for many centuries. But the situation will not remain same. He feels that the things which seem to be fine at present, but the scenario will change in the future as the Great Chief (George Washington, the first President of the United States of America) wishes to put the land of the native Americans with words of feigned ‘good will and friendship.’ Seattle says that the Great Chief is in little need of their help and friendship, as his people (the whites) are strong and powerful if compared to the natives, but it is the greatness of the Washington Chief as he has extended the hand of friendship.
Then the Chief Seattle recollects the time when his people were large in number, but now, their number has been reduced. He compares the Whites to the grass that covers the vast prairies, large in number. His people are few and they resemble the scattering trees of a storm swept plain. Seattle says that the proposition seems to be just, kind and generous as the Red man no longer has rights. In Seattle’s opinion, the offer appears to be wise since the native Americans are less in number and don’t require a vast territory.
Once again, Seattle compares the past situation of the tribal people when they were in their glorious phase to the waves of a wind-ruffed sea. He means to express how lively and energetic his people were then. But, instead of mourning over their untimely decay, he wants to look forward. Then, Seattle points out that youth is impulsive and the youngmen often indulge in revengeful acts considering them to be gainful. During war or other revengeful acts, they even lose their own lives, but their families have to bear the loss. The members of their families have to suffer from utter sufferings and sorrows. So, he suggests that his natives and the white settlers should make a peaceful atmosphere and they should never think of hostility.
Chief Seattle mentions George Washington as their ‘good father’ and says that their ‘good father’ has promised his natives if they surrender or sell their land to the White settlers, he will protect them from foreign enemies like Haidas and Tsimshians. His vigorous, energetic and brave warriors will provide them strength. Seattle also hopes that the White Chiefs brave men will provide the natives strengths. His ship would fill their harbours so that Hidas and Tsimshians will cease to frighten the natives. Then, in true sense, he would be their father and they would be his children.
But then a doubt lingers in the mind of Seattle and he feels that God of the White people is not their God. The God of the Whites loves and protects his people and hates the tribal people (the red children). He has forsaken his Red children. Seattle, then, refers to his own God, the Great Spirit who also seems to be forsaking them. His natives seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. Thus he remarks that they are two distinct races having separate origins and separate destinies. A great difference is found between the whites and his people.
Then, Seattle praises the sacredness which is related not only, with the ashes of their ancestors but also with this land which is their resting place. The natives love to stay in the land where their ancestors’ memories are alive whereas the whites wander far from their ancestors’ graves. He, then, says that the white man’s religion was inscribed upon tablets of stone by the iron fingers of their God so that they could not forget whereas the Red man could never comprehend or remember it.
But the religion of his people is the traditions of their ancestors. It constitutes the dreams of their old men and is written in the hearts of their people. The ancestors of the Europeans (after their death) cease to love them and the land of their nativity, but on the other hand, the ancestors (or the dead) of his race never forget their beautiful world that gave them their being. They still love its valleys, rivers, magnificent mountains and lakes. Even after their death, they long to show their affection to the gloomy hearts and often return to visit, guide, console and comfort them.
After this, Chief Seattle says that there is great difference between these two races (native Americans and the Whites). They can not develop any attachment with each other. They can not live together. Hence he compares them like day and night. The Red men flee away at the approach of the whites as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. But the white man’s poposition seems fair and he thinks that his people will except it. He hopes that then they will dwell apart in place.
Then, Seattle says that it is a matter of little importance where his people the remnant of their days, but it is certain that the number of his people will reduce. No single star of hope can be seen hovering above his horizon. The winds moan and grain fate follows them. Their situation is similar to a wounded doe that is being hunted down. In a few more year, the race of his people will disappear. He also warns that some day the white settlers too will face the same destiny. It is the order of nature that everything will see decline sooner or later. As the Red tribal people of America have been reduced to their meager existence, the white people will see the same fate whatever distant it may be. Though God has favoured the white people more than the tribal people, they can not be exempted from the common destiny of decay and doom.
Chief Seattle says that they will accept the proposal of acquisition of land of the Governor of Washington but puts forward a condition-that they will not be prevented from visting the ashes (tombs) of their ancestors as the land is sacred to them. Every hill, every valley, every plain and even rivers which are known as lifeless, are sacred to his people.
Seattle says that the native Americans would be transported to a reality beyond what is felt by the senses. The shores, the pathless woods, the field would never be empty of their spirits. This land will make them eternal. They will be a part of land forever. Their death would not be death but only a gateway to the eternal world. They will only change their world and hence will become immortal. He ends his speech with the assertion that there is no death, only a change of world.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary Stanzawise Word-Meanings
Yonder = at a distance, but within a view. Compassion = a sensation of scftrow excited by the distress or misfortunes; pity. External = everlasting; endless. Untold = not related; not revealed. Overcast = filled or abounding with clouds. The Great chief at Washington = George Washington. White Chief = Governor Isaac Stevens. Greeting = expression of kindness or joy. Vast prairies = large open area of grassland specially found in North America. Resemble = to be like or similar to. Scattering = a small number of something. Presume = to suppose or assume.
Red man = native American. Extensive = expanded; large. Ruffled = disturbed. Dwell on = linger over. Mourn over = grieve over. Untimely decay = destroyed before the usual time. Reproach = to attribute blame to. Paleface = a derogatory term for a white person (said to have been used by North American Indians). Impulsive = without forethought; actuated by impulse or by transient feelings. Disfigure = to mar the figure of. Relentless = stern; insensible to the distress of others. Restrain = to hold back from. Push = to drive or impel by force or pressure. Hostilities = animosities. Bristling = vigorous and energetic. Harbors = seaports. Haidas = members of a seafaring group of North American Indian who lived on the Pacific coast of British Columbia and Southwestern Alaska.
Tsimshians = members of a penutian people who lived on rivers in British Columbia. For-saken = left entirely; abandoned. Waxstronger = spread from one to another area. Ebbing = receding; going out; falling. Receding = moving back; retreating; withdrawing. Teeming multitudes = a large number of people. Firmament = the region of the air; the sky or heavens. Distinct = different. Ashes = the remains of the human body when burnt, or when returned to dust by natural decay. (Perhaps here it is used for tombs). Hallowed = sacred; worthy of religious veneration. Iron finger = finger of God. Comprehend = to take into the mind; to understand.
Sachemes = chiefs of a tribe of the American Indian. Portals = doors or gates; ways of entrance or exit. Verdant = covered with growing plants or grass; green; fresh; flourishing. Magnificent = grand in appearance. Sequestered = secluded. Vales = valleys. Yearn = dream of, a strong longing. Fond = loving; affectionate. Flees = makes a quick exit. Mist = fog. Remnant = remaining; yet left. Hovers = hangs fluttering in the air. Horizon = the apparent junction of the earth and sky. Moan = to make a low prolonged sound of grief or pain; to groan softly and continuously. Trail = track, path. Stolidly = without being upset. Doom = destruction. Untimely fate = premature death or doom. Decay = destruction; death. Ponder = to think; to muse. Privilege = a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favour. Molestation = disturbance; annoyance. Estimation = an approximate calculation; opinion. Grove = a small growth of trees. Swelter = to be overcome and faint with heat. Eventide = the time of evening; evening. Myth = a traditional story accepted as history. Solitude = state of being alone; a lovely life; loveliness. Throng = a multitude of persons or of living beings; a crowd.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary About the Writer
Chief Seattle or Sealth was a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes. He was a prominent figure among his people. He pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers, forming a personal relationship with David Swinson ‘Doc’ Maynard. Maynard was an advocate of Native American rights whose friendship with Chief Seattle was important in the formation of city of Seattle. When the first plots for the village were filed on May 23, 1853, due to Maynard’s prompting, it was for the ‘Town of Seattle.’
. Beyond leadership skills and the gift of oratory, Chief Seattle had the desire for the two vastly different cultures to coexist in peace. He both observed and played a part in the birth of a small village named after him, that has since grown into a large metropolis known for its innovation, openness, diversity and love for creation.
Chief Seattle was born around 1786 on or near Blake Island, Washington near present day Seattle. His father, Schweabe, was a leader of the Suquamish tribe of Agate Pass, between Brainbridge Island and the mainland of Washington state’s Kitsap Peninsula across Puget Sound from the present city of Seattle. Seattle’s mother was Sholitza, the daughter of a Duwamish chief, from near the lower Green River area. As the line of descent traditionally ran through the mother, Seattle was considered Duwamish. Both the Suquamish and Duwamish are Coast Salish people. Seattle’s given name at birth was Sealth.
Seattle grew up speaking two different dialects of Lushootseed and was blessed with skill-sets from the two different tribes. Once he was made the chief of the Duwamish tribe. It is believed that he sighted the ships from the Vancouver expedition, as they explored the region around the Salish Sea, which is now known as Puget Sound. From a very young age, he earned the standing of an authoritative personality and was known for his leadership qualities.
By 1833, when the Hudson’s Bay Company founded Fort Nisqually near the head of Puget Sound, Seattle had a solid reputation as an intelligent and formidable leader with a compelling voice. He was also known as an orator and when he addressed an audience, his voice is said to have carried from his camp to the Stevens Hotel at First and Marrion, a distance of three-quarters of a mile. He was tall and broad for a Puget Sound native at nearly six feet; Hudson’s Bay Company traders gave him to nickname LeGros (The Big One).
In 1847, Seattle helped lead the Suquamish in an attack upon the Chemakum stronghold of Tsetsibus, near Port Townsend, that effectively wiped out this rival group. The death of one of his sons during the raid affected him deeply, for not long after that he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church and give the baptismal name Noah. He is believed to have received his baptism by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at their Joseph of Newmarket Mission, founded near the new settlement of Olympia in 1848. This conversion was a turning point for Seattle and the Duwamish, as it marked the end of his fighting days and his emergence as leader known as ‘friend to the whites’.
White settlers began arriving in the Puget Sound area in 1846, and in the area that later became the city of Seattle, in 1851. Seattle welcomed the settlers and sought out friendships with those with whom he could do business. His initial contact was with San Francisco merchant, Charles Fay, with whom he organized a fishery on Elliott Bay in the summer of 1851. When Fay returned to San Francisco, Chief Seattle moved South to Olympia. Here he took up with David S. ‘Doc’ Maynard.
Seattle helped protect the small band of settlers. Because of his friendship and assistance, it was Maynard who advocated for naming the settlement ‘Seattle’ after Chief Seattle. When the first plots for the village were filed on May 23, 1853, it was for the ‘Town of Seattle’.
Seattle served as native spokesman during the treaty council held at Point Elliott (later Mukilteo), from December 27, 1854, to January 9, 1855. While he voiced misgivings about ceding title to some 2.5 million acres of land, he understood the futility of opposing a force so much larger than his own people. In signing the treaty and retaining a reservation for the suquamish but not for the Duwamish, he lost the support of the latter. This unhappiness soon led to the Yakima Indian War of 1855-1857. Seattle kept his people out of Battle ofi Seattle (1856). Afterwards he unsuccessfully sought clemency for the war leader, Leschi. On the reservation, he attempted to curtail the influence of whiskev sellers and he interceded between the whites and the natives. Off the reservation, he participated in meetings to resolve native disputes.
Seattle maintained his friendship with Maynard and cultivated new relationships with other settlers. He was unwilling to lead his tribe to the reservation established, since mixing Duwamish and Snohomish was likely to lead to bloodshed. Maynard persuaded the government of the necessity of allowing Seattle to remove to his father’s longhouse on Agate Passage, ‘Old Man House’. Seattle frequented the town named after him. He died on June 7, 1866, on the Suquamish reservation at Port Madison, Washington.