Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Short Stories Workbook Answers Chapter 1 Notes Chief Seattle’s Speech – ICSE Class 10, 9 English


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Over the years, Chief Seattle’s famous speech has been embellished, popularized, and carved into many a monument, but its origins have remained inadequately explained. Understood as a symbolic encounter between indigenous America, represented by Chief Seattle, and industrialized or imperialist America, represented by Isaac L Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, it was first published in a Seattle newspaper in 1887 by a pioneer who claimed he had heard Seattle (or Sealth) deliver it in the 1850s. No other record of the speech has been found, and Isaac Stevens’s writings do not mention it. Yet it has long been taken seriously as evidence of a voice crying out of the wilderness of the American past.

About the Author

Seattle was a great speaker and skilled diplomat. Born in 1786, his real name, in the Lushootseed language, was See-ahth, which the whites found nearly impossible to pronounce.

Seattle’s mother Sholeetsa was Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) and his father Shweabe was chief of the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh (the Suquamish tribe). Seattle was bom around 1780 on or near Blake Island, Washington. Seattle grew up speaking both the Duwamish and Suquamish dialects.

Seattle earned his reputation at a young age as a leader and a warrior, ambushing and defeating groups of tribal enemy raiders. Like many of his contemporaries, he owned slaves captured during his raids. He was tall and broad for a Puget Sound native, standing nearly six feet tall; Hudson’s Bay Company traders gave him the nickname Le Gros (The Big Guy). 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 Marion, a distance of 3/4 mile (1.2 km)

Seattle was also a warrior with a considerable reputation for daring raids on other Indian tribes. After smallpox wiped out many of his people, he realized the inevitablity of the coming tide of white settlement. In 1854, he made his speech on the differences between the Indian way of life and white way of life to more than a thousand of his people gathered to greet the Government’s Indian superintendent, Isaac Stevens. A year later, the chief signed a treaty with the United States Government, ceding much of the area on which the city of Seattle now stands. Most historians agree that the speech was delivered in the Salish dialect. Dr Henry A. Smith is believed to have taken notes and translated it into English. Thus it is Dr Smith’s version published in 1887 which is referred to mostly.

He died in 1866, at the age of 80, one year after the city named for him passed a law making it illegal for Indians to live in Seattle.

About the Story

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding Chief Seattle’s speech of 1854. There are many sources of information, various versions of the speech, and debates over its very existence.

The National Archives contains two short documents attributed to Seattle. In both, he talks about accepting the treaty and how his people are looking forward to receiving the things promised by the government.

Mr. Buerge said he believed the Smith translation, which mentioned nothing about the whites ravaging the environment, is close, in spirit at least, to what Seattle really said.

By most accounts, the speech was stirring, carried by the chief’s strong voice.

Even the date and location of the speech has been disputed, but the most common version is that on March 11, 1854, Sealth gave a speech at a large outdoor gathering in Seattle. The meeting had been called by Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens to discuss the surrender or sale of native land to white settlers. Doc Maynard introduced Stevens, who then briefly explained his mission, which was already well understood by all present.

Sealth then rose to speak. He rested his hand upon the head of the much smaller Stevens, and declaimed with great dignity for an extended period. No one alive today knows what he said; he spoke in the Lushootseed language, and someone translated his words into Chinook Indian trade language, and a third person translated that into English.

The speech given by Chief Seattle in January of 1854 is the subject of a great deal of historical debate. The most important fact to note is that there is NO VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT IN EXISTENCE. All known texts are second-hand.

Version 1 appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith. He makes it very clear that his version is not an exact 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 or Suquamish. Either way all agree the speech was translated into the Chinook Jargon on the spot, since Chief Seattle never learned to speak English.

Version 2 was written by poet William Arrowsmith in the late 1960s. This was an attempt to put the text into more current speech patterns, rather than Dr. Smith’s more flowery Victorian style. Except for this modernization, it is very similar to Version 1.

Version 3 is perhaps the most widely known of all. This version was written by Texas professor Ted Perry as part of a film script. The makers of the film took a little literary license, further changing the speech and making it into a letter to President Franklin Pierce, which has been frequently reprinted. No such letter was ever written by or for Chief Seattle.                                                         ‘

Version 4 appeared in an exhibit at Expo ’74 in Spokane, Washington, and is a shortened edition of Dr. Perry’s script (Version 3).

The best description of the saga of Chief Seattle’s speech can be found in an essay by Rudolf Kaiser: “Chief Seattle’s Speech(es): American Origins and European Reception” published in Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature by the University of California Press, 1987. Another excellent discussion appears in David Buerge’s article “Seattle’s King Arthur: How Chief Seattle continues to inspire his many admirers to put words in his mouth,” appearing in the July 17, 1991 Seattle Weekly.


  1. Seattle delivers speech in Washington in 1854.
  2. He thanked the white Chief for his greetings and friendship.
  3. He accepted the White Chief’s proposition and says it was just.
  4. Speaks about their ecological and Native American’s land rights.
  5. Appeals to the White people to be kind and just to the natives.
  6. Wants the assurance of protection of his people by the whites.
  7. Offers greetings and friendship to the White people.


Through the speech that Chief Seattle delivered in Washington in 1854 in Suquamish language he attempted to forward a message of reconciliation and friendship to the White people. He spoke about their ecological responsibilities and respect for the native people. He felt that their hostilities should end and they should live in harmony. The White Chief should take the responsibility of protecting the natives. The native people in return agreed to live on the land marked for them. Seattle strikes a note of optimism when he accepted that the proposition made by the Whites appeared just. But as he is slightly apprehensive, he puts the condition that the natives should be allowed to visit the graves of their ancestors whenever they so wished. This is how the author puts forward the theme of respect for elders and value of the traditions of their race.

Highlights of Speech/or Summary

Chief Seattle delivered his speech at Washington in 1854 saying that whatever Seattle said, the Great Chief at Washington could rely upon with as much certainty as he could upon the return of the sun or the seasons.

He sends greetings of friendship and goodwill and thanks the White chief for their friendship in return. His people were many. They were like the grass that covered vast prairies. Seattle had few people. The White Chief had sent word that he wished to buy their land but was willing to allow them enough to live comfortably. This indeed appeared just, even generous.

There was a time Seattle’s people covered the land but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that were now but a mournful memory. Youth is impulsive and young men often grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and are often cruel and relentless, and their old men and old women are unable to restrain them. Thus it was when the white man began to push the native’s forefathers ever westward. But he hoped that the hostilities between them may never return as there would be everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Seattle then referred to George Washington as —‘our great and good father,’ who promised the natives that if they do as he desires he would protect them. But native God is not the coloniser’s God! The coloniser’s god was partial and could not renew the native’s prosperity and awaken in them dreams of returning greatness. They are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between them.

The ashes of their ancestors were sacred to the natives and their resting place is hallowed ground.

The native’s dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man. However, he agrees that the white man’s proposition seems fair and the natives would accept it and retire to the reservation offered to them. Then they would live apart in peace. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail., He compared the native’s plight to that of the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

He agreed to accept the white man’s proposition on the condition that they would not be denied the privilege of visiting at any time the tombs of their ancestors, friends, and children.

He appealed to the white man to be just and deal kind to his people.


Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle is a prominent and respected member of the Suquamish tribe. His people accept the decisions he makes. He is their leader. Seattle’s mother Sholeetsa was Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) and his father Shweabe was chief of the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh (the Suquamish tribe). Seattle was born around 178C on or near Blake Island, Washington. Seattle grew up speaking both the Duwamish and Suquamish dialects.

Seattle earned his reputation at a young age as a leader and a warrior, ambushing and defeating groups of tribal enemy raiders. Like many of his contemporaries, he owned slaves captured during his raids. He was tall and broad for a Puget Sound.native, standing nearly six feet tall; Hudson’s Bay Company traders gave him the nickname Le Gros (The Big Guy). 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 Marion, a distance of 3/4 mile (1.2 km). Seattle was also a warrior with a considerable reputation for daring raids on other Indian tribes.

He was wise enough to understand that the White colonisers were powerful and the only option his people had was to agree to their proposition. So he agreed but also made a condition that the White Chief take the responsibility of protecting his people and allowing them to visit the graves of their ancestors. This showed that he loved and respected the traditions.


The title, Chief Seattle’s Speech is apt and suggestive because it is a rendition of his views about the White people, his apprehensions and his reconciliation for the sake of the survival of his people. He speaks about the proposition made by the White Chief. His acknowledgement of the friendship, his fears for the safety and survival of his people and about their ecological responsibility.


Chief Seattle delivered his speech at Washington in 1854 saying that whatever Seattle said, the Great Chief at Washington could rely upon with as much certainty as he could upon the return of the sun or the seasons.

Chief Seattle’s speech was originally addressed to Governor Issac Stevens. Seattle claimed the rare opportunity to address Euro-American representations of American Indians to express his love for his land. Governor Issac Stevens spoke to them about what later came to be called the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855, which was a land treaty between the United States Government and the Native American Tribes of the area in the Washington Territory formed in 1853. The speech was a reaction to the proposition of the White settlers to buy the land of the natives and settle them on a small part of it.


Few speeches have captured the imagination of both Europeans and Americans as Chief Seattle’s legendary address has. It was originally made in the Suquamish language as Chief Seattle could not speak English. Reputedly delivered in the 1850s to Isaac Stevens, the governor of the Washington Territory, it took on a life of its own in the late 20th century when several different versions, many with an emphasis on the environment, surfaced.

Chief Seattle shares his precious land’s memories by forming two different tones. Chief Seattle creates a passionate and a sorrowful tone through diction and imagery. He made his speech passionate and sorrowful to move the audience’s heart and hoping that the people would take care of the land like the chief did.

The first part of Seattle’s speech of the land is packed with memories and what they mean to his people. He says that if he sells the land everybody must remember that they should treat “every” part of the land as if they were their “brothers”. The tone of his words is sorrowful because he focused on what he’s going to lose, the things and values that are precious to him – everything in his memory, his brothers.

Every detail of the land, part of the land came from his memories. Seattle uses detailed words or imagery such as every “shining” pine needle, every “humming” insect, and every “perfumed” flower. Seattle uses detailed words to describe a scene that had impacted him. His imagery centers and puts deeper meanings to his speech that he is going to miss the land.

The second part of Seattle’s speech presents is not his memory – it is what Seattle wants the inherent of the land to do and not to do and what the land means to him. He says to love and to care for the land because it is precious to everyone and all things are united and harming the land is the same thing as to have contempt for its creator. The tone of his words is passionate because the land is very precious to him and he wants everyone to take care of the land. Seattle uses repetition of “love” and “care” in the sentence: “love it as we have loved it, care for it as we have cared for it.” Repeating the two words emphasizes them and it makes it sound that he is really passionate about the land. Seattle says that “No man, be he Red Man or White Man can be apart.”

His speech abounds in similes and metaphors.
Similes : ‘My words are like the stars that never change.’
‘Our people are ebbing like a rapidly receding tide that will never return.’
Metaphor : He calls his God, ‘the Great Spirit.
Thus we can say that in his speech he adopts a style that is literary, straightforward and emotionally stirring.

Critical Appreciation

Controversy surrounds the speech Chief Seattle delivered in 1855 during a land treaty negotiation with Governor Issac Stevens. On one hand, we worship Seattle’s eloquent words for their unique insight on the Native American perspective. On the other hand, debate rages over the authenticity of the speech’s only existing recording, a reproduction produced by Dr. Henry Smith thirty years after the event. Many facts about Smith’s situation still remain clouded.

Despite the mystery surrounding this famous speech, its contents can be understood in terms of what Mary Louis Pratt calls a “contact zone.” In Pratt’s article “Arts of the Contact Zone,” she introduces this zone as the chaotic space in which cultures collide. Essential features of the contact zone include autoethnography, the representation of one’s own culture that responds to representations made by others, and transculturation, the selective absorption of the dominant culture by a marginal group. These features of autoethnography and transculturation emerge prominently in Chief Seattle’s speech, shedding more insight on the interactions between the Native Americans and the Euro-Americans; however, in the context of the unique circumstances surrounding the text, Seattle’s speech ultimately demonstrates the inherent dangers of representation and misrepresentation in the contact zone.

Under the assumption that Smith’s recreation of the speech accurately translates Chief Seattle’s original speech, the text qualifies as an autoethnography of the Native American people.

Traditional Euro-American representations of the American Indians consistently degraded them to the level of “savages.” From the beginning of their contact, Europeans contrasted their civilization with the savageness of the Indians.

This view of the beastly, godless, and devil-worshipping nature of the Indians continued for a vast part of the contact, shaping the violent interactions between the natives and the settlers. This view also led to the notion that the Native Americans had no claim to the land. The continual claiming of Indian land, even to the time of the Chief Seattle’s land negotiation with Governor Stevens in Washington, demonstrates the widespread acceptance of Gray’s view among the Euro-Americans. In his speech, Chief Seattle counters these Euro-American representations of the Native Americans. In response to the portrayals of savageness and godlessness, he emphasizes the nobility and religiousness of his people.

In particular, Chief Seattle condemns the violence that occurred between the two races and elevates his people above the mutual savagery. Seattle acknowledges the involvement of his race in the statement, “Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry… they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them” However, he carefully creates the distinction between the “impulsive” youth and the wiser “old men and old women” who wish for peace, displaying the complexity within Indian society. Chief Seattle also points out that the Euro-Americans were equally at fault for the violence. He refers to the time “when the white man began to push our forefathers ever westward” and how his “paleface brothers [hastened] our untimely decay”. While acknowledging the violence, Seattle suggests that his “paleface brothers” were the true savages who slaughtered vast numbers of Indians during the westward push. Meanwhile, Seattle expresses his “hope that the hostilities… never return”, given the extent that they have hurt his people. In doing so, he completes the reversal of representations; the Euro-Americans are the barbarians waging war while the Natives are the victims begging for peace.

Chief Seattle also responds to the charge of “godlessness” circulated by the conquerors by comparing his religion with Christianity. He exclaims, ‘Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! … If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children.’

These statements highlight the absurdity of expecting the American Indians, having been isolated from the Europeans for thousands of years, to have adopted the same  religion. In place of Christianity, Seattle introduces the religion of his people: “Our religion is the tradition of our ancestors… ”. He points out several areas in which his religion is superior to Christianity. He says, “Your religion was written upon tablets of stone… so that you could not forget… Our religion… is written in the hearts of our people” . Similarly, “Your dead cease to love you… Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being”. These comparisons pose a direct challenge to the earlier portrayals of the Indians as godless and devil-worshiping. Furthermore. Chief Seattle also responds to the Euro-American belief that the Indians had no claim to the land by expressing their profound attachment to it. He declares, “The very dust upon which you now stand

responds more lovingly to [our] footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors.” In direct opposition with Euro-American representations, Seattle demonstrates that the Natives, like the Europeans, have a complex religion and culture.

The speech has elements of transculturation. Although Seattle tended to emphasize the differences between Native Americans and Euro-Americans, the Euro-American idea that the Native Americans were going to become extinct, surfaced throughout his speech.This idea of the inevitable extinction of the Native Americans as a race originated from the colonists. This idea served the colonists quite conveniently. It justified what Ring calls the “transfer of real estate,” the process in which European settlers gradually moved into established Indian communities as the Indians “disappeared”. Apparently, killing and stealing from an already-doomed race was easier to accept.

Throughout his speech, Chief Seattle indicates his acceptance of this belief that the Native Americans would become extinct. He refers to their “untimely decay” and laments, “It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many”, although he does not provide any concrete reasons for these sentiments. Instead, Seattle settles with the warning, “When the last Red Man shall have perished… these shores will throng with the invisible dead of my tribe… The White Man will never be alone”. In accepting the ultimate defeat of the Indians, Chief Seattle adopted an element of the dominant, Euro- American thought, demonstrating the transculturation predicted.

While the contents of Chief Seattle’s speech, as recreated by Dr. Smith, demonstrate both autoethnography and transculturation in a contact zone, their presence alone does not confirm the authenticity of the speech. In fact, numerous historical details question its legitimacy. Considering, for instance, that the original speech was given in Lushotseed, translated in Chinook Jargon a language with around 300 words and then into English from thirty-year-old notes , we should view the speech with at least some degree of suspicion.

In fact, Dr. Smith admits in the publication that his version fails to reproduce Seattle’s exact statements.

In addition to a lack of historical evidence, an analysis of the Chief Seattle himself also casts doubts on the very existence of the speech. The only two paragraphs of Chief Seattle statements on the official record present him as compliant and reserved: at one point, Seattle says, “My mind is like yours, I don’t want to say more” William Abruzzi suggests that Seattle was selected for the negotiation over local leaders precisely because he demonstrated this allegiance, not opposition. This picture of Chief Seattle, which sharply  contrasts the forceful, passionate tone of Smith’s text, suggests that the speech produced by Dr. Smith may not have taken place at all.

Regardless of the final verdict on the authenticity of Seattle’s speech, it is safe to conclude that Dr. Smith played at least a significant role in the formation of Chief Seattle’s speech. As Dr. Smith belongs to the dominant culture, the speech can no longer be considered as a pure autoethnographic text; elements of ethnography inevitably contaminate the speech. The transculturation present in the speech suffers a similar fate; we can no longer take Chief Seattle’s acceptance of the extinction of the Indians as an actual absorption of dominant material by a marginal group.

Significantly, each new version of Seattle’s speech, beginning with that of Dr. Heniy Smith and ending with the latest reincarnation of Ted Perry’s script, has been created entirely by non-Indians. Not one Native people has translated Seattle’s speech into their own indigenous language

The true interests of the Native Americans become lost as Euro-American culture continues to fabricate images of Native Americans through figures like Chief Seattle.

In sum, while autoethnography and transculturation offer valuable insights into cultures and their interactions, we must also remain wary of misrepresentation in the contact zone. Chief Seattle’s speech appears to shed valuable light on Native American reactions to the representations of the Euro-Americans, but the increasingly larger role that Dr. Smith is believed to have played in the production of the speech challenges the validity of those reactions. Perhaps then, one day, we can begin to understand Chief Seattle’s real message.


  1. Yonder : there
  2. Compassion : sympathy
  3. Eternal : permanent.
  4. Prairies : wide areas of grassland.
  5. Dwell on : think a lot about something.
  6. Mourn over : grieve over.
  7. Reproach : blame/criticize.
  8. Denotes : indicates.
  9. Restrain : check,stop somebody from doing something.
  10. Hostilities : strong and angry opposition.
  11. Receding : moving away.
  12. Tide : wave of water.
  13. Prosperity : progress
  14. Multitudes : many.
  15. Firmament : the sky.
  16. Ancestors : persons in the family who lived long ago.

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