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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The only known photograph of Chief Seattle, taken 1865

Chief Seattle (an Anglicization of Si'ahl), ((Lushootseed pronunciation: [siʔaɬ],[1] (c. 1780 - June 7, 1866), was a Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) chief,[2] also known as Sealth, Seathle, Seathl, or See-ahth, and a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes in what is now the U.S. state of Washington. A prominent figure among his people, he pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers, forming a personal relationship with David Swinson "Doc" Maynard. Seattle, Washington was named after him. A widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of native Americans' land rights has been attributed to him; however there is controversy about what, if anything, he actually said.



Si’ahl's mother Sholeetsa was Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) and his father Shweabe was chief of the Dkhw’Suqw'Absh (the Suquamish tribe).[2] Si’ahl was born around 1780 on or near Blake Island, Washington. One source cites his mother's name as Wood-sho-lit-sa.[3]. The Duwamish tradition is that Si’ahl was born at his mother's Dkhw’Duw’Absh village of Stukw on the Black River, in what is now the city of Kent, and that Si'ahl grew up speaking both the Dkhw’Duw’Absh and Dkhw’Suqw'Absh dialects of Lushootseed. Because Native descent among the Salish peoples was not solely patrilineal, Si'ahl inherited his position as chief of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh Tribe from his maternal uncle.[2] In later years, Si’ahl claimed to have seen the ships of the Vancouver Expedition as they explored Puget Sound.

Si’ahl earned his reputation at a young age as a leader and a warrior, ambushing and defeating groups of enemy raiders coming up the Green River from the Cascade foothills, and attacking the Chemakum and the S'Klallam, tribes living on the Olympic Peninsula. Like many of his contemporaries, he owned slaves captured during his raids. He was tall and broad for a Puget Sound native at nearly six feet; Hudson's Bay Company traders gave him the nickname Le Gros (The Big One). 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 of a mile.[3]

He took wives from the village of Tola'ltu just southeast of Duwamish Head on Elliott Bay (now part of West Seattle). His first wife La-Dalia died after bearing a daughter. He had three sons and four daughters with his second wife, Olahl.[3] The most famous of his children was his first, Kikisoblu or Princess Angeline. Si’ahl was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, and given the baptismal name Noah, probably in 1848 near Olympia, Washington.[4] The meaning of this ceremony may be called into question by his references to his people's gods in his most famous speech (below).

For all his skill, Si’ahl was gradually losing ground to the more powerful Patkanim of the Snohomish when white settlers started showing up in force. When his people were driven from their traditional clamming grounds, Si’ahl met Maynard in Olympia; they formed a friendly relationship useful to both. Persuading the settlers at Duwamps to rename the town Seattle, Maynard established their support for Si’ahl's people and negotiated relatively peaceful relations among the tribes.

Si’ahl kept his people out of the Battle of Seattle (1856). Afterwards, 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 Si’ahl to remove to his father's longhouse on Agate Passage, 'Old Man House' or Tsu-suc-cub. Si’ahl frequented the town named after him, and had his photograph taken by E. M. Sammis in 1865.[3] He died June 7, 1866, on the Suquamish reservation at Port Madison, Washington.


Statue (erected 1908) of Chief Seattle, Tilikum Place, Seattle, Washington. The statue is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Si’ahl's grave site is at the Suquamish Tribal Cemetery.[5]
  • In 1890, a group of Seattle pioneers led by Arthur Armstrong Denny set up a monument over his grave, with the inscription "SEATTLE Chief of the Suqamps and Allied Tribes, Died June 7, 1866. The Firm Friend of the Whites, and for Him the City of Seattle was Named by Its Founders" On the reverse is the inscription "Baptismal name, Noah Sealth, Age probably 80 years."[3] The site was restored and a native sculpture added in 1976.
  • Soundgarden, a Seattle rock band, covered the Black Sabbath song, "Into the Void" replacing the lyrics with the words from Chief Seattle's speech.
  • The Suquamish Tribe honors Chief Seattle every third week in August at "Chief Seattle Days".
  • The city of Seattle, and numerous related features, are named after Si’ahl.
  • A B-17E Flying Fortress named Chief Seattle, a so-called "presentation aircraft", was funded by bonds purchased by the citizens of Seattle. Flying with the 435th Air Bomb Squadron in the defense of Port Moresby, it was lost with its 10-man crew on August 14, 1942.[6][7]

The Speech controversy

There is a controversy about a speech by Si’ahl concerning the concession of native lands to the settlers.

Even the date and location of the speech has been disputed,[8] but the most common version is that on March 11, 1854, Si’ahl 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.[3]

Si’ahl 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 jargon, and a third person translated that into English.

Some years later, Dr. Henry A. Smith wrote down an English version of the speech, based on Smith's notes. It was a flowery text in which Si’ahl purportedly thanked the white people for their generosity, demanded that any treaty guarantee access to Native burial grounds, and made a contrast between the God of the white people and that of his own. Smith noted that he had recorded "...but a fragment of his [Sealth's] speech". Recent scholarship questions the authenticity of Smith's supposed translation.[9]

In 1891, Frederick James Grant's History of Seattle, Washington reprinted Smith's version. In 1929, Clarence B. Bagley's History of King County, Washington reprinted Grant's version with some additions. In 1931, John M. Rich reprinted the Bagley version in Chief Seattle's Unanswered Challenge. In the 1960s, articles by William Arrowsmith and the growth of environmentalism revived interest in Si’ahl's speech. Ted Perry introduced anachronistic material, such as shooting buffalo from trains, into a new version for a movie called Home[1], produced for the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission.[10] The movie sunk without a trace, but this newest and most fictional version is the most widely known. Albert Furtwangler analyzes the evolution of Si’ahl's speech in Answering Chief Seattle (1997).[11]

The speech attributed to Si’ahl, as re-written by others, has been widely cited as "powerful, bittersweet plea for respect of Native American rights and environmental values"[1], but there is no evidence that what he said even touched those topics. A similar controversy surrounds a purported 1855 letter from Si’ahl to President Franklin Pierce, which has never been located and, based on internal evidence, is considered by some historians as "an unhistorical artifact of someone's fertile literary imagination".[8]

See also

Chief Seattle’s gravesite on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Suquamish, Washington
Closeup of Chief Seattle’s tombstone in Suquamish, Washington


  1. ^ a b c "Chief Si'ahl and His Family". Culture and History. Duwamish Tribe. Retrieved 2009-09-24.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f *Emily Inez Denny (1899). Blazing the Way (reprinted 1984 ed.). Seattle Historical Society.  
  3. ^ "Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons", by David M. Buerge
  4. ^ "Suquamish Culture". Suquamish Tribe. Retrieved July 1, 2007.  
  5. ^ ""Chief Seattle" and Crew".,M1. Retrieved December 27, 2008.  
  6. ^ *Gene Eric Salecker (2001). Fortress Against the Sun bob. Da Capo Press. 978-1580970495.  
  7. ^ a b Jerry L. Clark (Spring, 1985). "Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of An Undocumented Speech". The National Archives. Retrieved July 1, 2007.  
  8. ^ BOLA Architecture + Planning & Northwest Archaeological Associates, Inc., Port of Seattle North Bay Project DEIS: Historic and Cultural Resources, Port of Seattle, April 5, 2005. Accessed online 25 July 2008. p.
  9. ^ "Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens & Chief Seattle", Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, Wash., June, 1990; reprinted on The eJournal Website
  10. ^ Furtwangler, Albert (1997). "Answering Chief Seattle". University of Washington Press. Retrieved August 31, 2007.  




Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Chief Seattle (also Sealth, Seathl or See-ahth) (c.1786 – June 7, 1866) was a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes in what is now the U.S. state of Washington.



Statement on surrendering tribal lands to Isaac Stevens, governor of Washington Territory (1855)

(NB: see for historical details of this statement, which states "Chief Seattle gave a speech in January 1854 that was reported by Dr. Henry A. Smith in the Seattle Sunday Star in 1887. It is most usually called Seattle's Reply since it was a response to a speech by Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens. While there is no question that Chief Seattle gave a speech on this occasion, the accuracy of Smith's account is doubtful.")

  • My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain...There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory.
  • What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.
  • At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone.


The following quotes, purportedly taken from a letter, in which Seattle pleaded that his name should die with the ceding of the Washington State territories, was shown in 1992 to have been a forgery, devised by television scriptwriter Ted Perry for a historical epic in 1971.

  • Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. The very dust you now stand on responds more willingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.
  • Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only change of worlds.
  • We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy - and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers' graves, and his children’s birthright is forgotten.
  • Tribe follows tribe, nations follow nations like the tides of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless.
  • Today is fair. Tomorrow may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change.
  • How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?
  • Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people
  • The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory of the red man.
  • The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family. This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors.
  • If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that the ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells us events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our cannoes, feed our children. If we sell our land, you must learn, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.
  • You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.
  • Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
  • The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to Earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

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