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Edition 01: 22 March, 2011
A popular version of Chief Seattle’s speech was published more than thirty years after the fact in a newspaper article by Henry Smith, who may have been present when the speech was made.
The following version of Chief Seattle's
speech was submitted by Dr. Glenn T. Olds at
accessed on 22 March, 2011.
“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
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 memories of the red man.
The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. 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.
So, when the Great
He will be our father and we will be his children.
So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. 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 each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of 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 canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, 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.
We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of 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 father's grave behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care.
His father's grave, and his children's birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.
I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of the insect's wings. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond and the smell of the wind itself, cleansed by a midday rain, or scented with piñon pine.
The air is precious to the red man for all things share the same breath, the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days he is numb to the stench. But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.
The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow's flowers.
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our 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 that 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.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day discover: our God is the same God.
You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.
But in your perishing you will shine brightly fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.
That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tame, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.
The end of living and the beginning of survival."
*Chief Seattle's speech was
submitted by Dr. Glenn T. Olds at
The following notes were compiled by Lakw’alas (Thomas R. Speer), Treasurer, Duwamish Tribal Services Board of Directors, for the Duwamish Tribe, July 22, 2004
They were accessed at website http://www.duwamishtribe.org/documents/Life_siahl.doc on 22 March, 2011.
The Life of Si’ahl, ‘Chief Seattle’
It should be noted that cultural information, especially regarding a famous person, may vary from family to family, from location to location, and from Nation to Nation, due to differing opinions, experiences, and observations. The information shared here is not "etched in stone".
This is a brief history of the life of Si'ahl, the great
(high status man) known to the world as “Chief Seattle”, for whom the city of
The name "
As the First People of much of the King County area, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh witnessed geologic events that occurred in Puget Sound during the last Ice Age, approximately 10,000 years ago. Events recounted in the extensive oral history of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh have been confirmed by scientific discoveries. In 1979, an archeological excavation in the Dkhw’Duw’Absh ancestral homeland unearthed artifact fragments that were radiocarbon-dated to the Sixth Century AD, attesting to the antiquity of their tenure in this area.
Traditionally, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh hunted deer, elk, bear, and other game animals, ducks, geese, and other waterfowl, fished for salmon, cod, halibut, and other fish, harvested clams and other seafood's, and gathered berries, camas, and other plants for food and medicinal purposes. Bays, rivers, lakes, and well-established trails were the pathways to these vital resources as each came into its season for harvesting.
In Duwamish culture, everyone worked to hunt game and fish, especially salmon. The leaders of a household, town, or Nation worked as managers, making sure that economic and social activities ran efficiently. When things went well, members of the community provided the leading families with fresh food to compensate for time spent giving help and advice instead of getting provisions. Community leaders were expected to have several wives, all of good families, to increase their supply of stored food and hospitality. Of course, leaders also had slaves who did much of the routine work of getting water, firewood, and food.
Traditionally, each river watershed draining
Nobility was based on an unblemished genealogy, inter-Nation kinship, the wise use of resources, and the possession of knowledge about the workings of spirits and the world, whispered only to family members in closely guarded circumstances. The free born also looked different because their mothers carefully shaped their heads as babies by binding them onto stiff cradle boards, which produced a steep slope to the forehead.
Ethnically, Si'ahl was both Dkhw’Suqw’Absh, the “People of the Clear Salt Water” (Suquamish) and Dkhw’Duw’Absh, the “People of the Inside” (Duwamish). Both Nations spoke dialects of the common Puget Sound Salish language Lushootseed.
His father Shweabe was the chief of the Dkhw’Suqw'Absh (the Suquamish Tribe), and was himself the son and nephew of Suquamish chiefs. Si'ahl's mother was Sho’lee`tsah, the daughter of a Dkhw’Duw’Absh chief. According to tradition, the name "Si'ahl" had been in his mother Sho’lee`tsah 's family for many generations.
Si'ahl is thought to have been born in the 1780s. Differing stories exist about the birthplace
of Si'ahl. According to one tradition, Si'ahl was born
at a camping ground on Tátcu' (
Thus, by his lineage, Si'ahl had strong family ties with both the eastern and western shores of
central Puget Sound, in present-day King and
In 1851, when the first European-Americans arrived at Alki Point, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh occupied at least 17 villages, living in over 90 longhouses, and 6 Potlatch Houses (centers of spiritual and social gathering), along Elliott Bay, the Duwamish River, the Cedar River, the Black River (which no longer exists), Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Lake Sammamish. By 1910, nearly all of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh longhouses were destroyed by Non-Native arson.
In the late 1700s
and early 1800s, Si'ahl
witnessed epidemics of new infectious diseases introduced by Spanish, British
and American traders, decimating
Si'ahl was known to have married twice. He was deeply in love with his first wife Ladaila, a high status Duwamish woman
(Herrings House), an ancient village on the west bank of the
Ladaila was said to have been a radiantly beautiful woman. Ladaila died young, after childbirth, and it was only in his old age, after many years of silence, that Si'ahl spoke openly about her. 
The couple had one child, a daughter whom they
named Kikisoblu.  She was
nicknamed "Princess Angeline" by Catherine Maynard, wife of the White
pioneer Doc Maynard, a friend of Si'ahl. Kikisoblu ("Princess Angeline") lived for many years near the
According to Sca'la (Lummi elder Pauline Hillaire), Si'ahl married a second time to a high status woman named Owiyahl. Owiyahl was the daughter of a community leader known as Sakhumkun "the Older".  Si'ahl and his second wife Owiyahl had five children, two sons and three daughters. Their sons were Jim, known as "Jim Seattle", and George, known as "George Seattle". George's Lushootseed name was Sakhumkun, after her maternal grandfather.
Jim Seattle was the father of Moses Seattle, a dwarf often seen at public functions. Jim briefly succeeded his father as community leader, but was found to lack calm judgment. He eventually became a sub-chief under Jacob Wahalchu. Si'ahl and Owiyahl’s daughters’ names were not recorded.
Little is known about Si'ahl's childhood, although in
his later years he was given to reminiscing ('alc'uluhl'alkhw) about an
event occurring early in his life that proved to have a formative and lasting
impact on him. One Spring day in 1792,
from out of nowhere a towering British sailing vessel came gliding into
The ship was the H.M.S. Discovery, an explorer commanded by George Vancouver. According to the captain's log, it stopped near shore that day in May to send a crew out to get wood to repair a damaged sail. The ship was secured near a sc'útqsh, a small cape that Captain Vancouver named "Restoration Point" (now the Country Club), on the southeastern tip of the island he named "Bainbridge".
The H.M.S. Discovery was one of the first European
vessels known to have explored the
Historian David Buerge
has suggested that the two men may have been brothers, and in fact may have
and his brother Kitsap. Although
Once initial contact had been made and the Luhli'á'kwbikhw
(foreigners) proved friendly, the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh skirted
their canoes alongside the ship's hull to trade with the British crew. During the two weeks that the Discovery
remained anchored off
Interaction between the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh and the British explorers was also remarkably
civil. Si'ahl would embrace the strategy
of civil co-operation 60 years later when the Khwúhltub came again, to settle
across the water in the Duwamish homeland in what became the City of
In addition to the role he likely played in establishing positive trade relations with Captain Vancouver, Si'ahl's father Shweabe was the master architect of Old Man House, according to Si'ahl himself. For a period of time beginning in perhaps the late 1700's and extending certainly through the early decades of the nineteenth century, Old Man House stood as a testament to the wealth and influence of Si'ahl's family. The house was a gwigwia'ltkhw, or a pigwuda'ltkhw, a building that served as a communal gathering place for potlatches (khwsalikw) and winter spirit dancing (pígwud).
One of the signs of effective Native leadership was the ability to direct the labor and resources needed to construct a shed-roofed, cedar-plank longhouse. Usually the construction of this communal dwelling was undertaken by a set of brothers, who then "owned" the house and led the household.
Si'ahl was associated with one of the longest plank houses in the entire region, known as “Old Man House” (or in Chinook Jargon, “Oleman House”), at Suquamish. Si'ahl’s fame served to attract many followers, who expanded the house, first built about 1800. During Si'ahl’s prime, this house was estimated to be a thousand feet long.
Built to accommodate as many as 600 guests, the interior of the house could be compartmentalized, divided by sula'ubud (walls) and q'úsud (partitions) into at least forty separate rooms. Each living area had its own lululwá'sud (shelf-like platforms for sleeping), its own fireplace, and a private entrance. The sqálatkhw, the roof of the building, was a flat plane made of sqwlhá'tkhw (cedar planks) engineered to slope on an incline, preventing rain on the roof from pooling and adding weight.
Si'ahl, like his father
Shweabe, came to occupy a position of prominence
at Old Man House. The story of his rise
to the station of si'áb
(community leader) while still in his early twenties provides a good example of
his natural abilities and talents. Faced
with news of an impending attack on his Dkhw’Duw’Absh homeland by highland warriors from the White
Just below the bend, the crew cut down a tall tree, which they felled across the breadth of the river. The log lay just above the water's surface, obscured by shadow in the pre-dawn light. As the enemy canoe fleet maneuvered around the river bend in the swift-moving current, their canoes crashed into the floating barrier. Upended, the boats rolled and capsized, casting the men into the river. Once in the water, they were easily defeated.
The ambush was an important victory, one for which Si'ahl was widely honored. His success at defending the Dkhw’Duw’Absh distinguished him in combat. It also gave him an opportunity to transform his accomplishment into political gain.
By the end of 1700s, the foreigners’
introduction of guns, together with depopulation from epidemics, destabilized
Native Nations throughout the
A series of Suquamish war leaders arose in the
wake of those events. The first was Kitsap, Shweabe’s brother. Kitsap led a huge intertribal canoe flotilla that
attacked the Cowichan Nation on
Denying knowledge of Chinook Jargon was an unusual step for an inter-Nation figure to take, though in doing so Si'ahl called attention to his stature since he then required, and was provided with, a special interpreter to translate from Chinook Jargon into Lushootseed for him.
At the time, in the early 1800's, the Yúkwihltakhw (Lekwihldakhw), a Kwakwaka'wakw Nation from
Although his plan met with initial resistance, in the end, through the power of diplomacy, he was able to unite his family with the members of five neighboring clans. He succeeded by persuading the si'i'áb (“high status men”, the community leaders) to recognize the advantages of co-operation for mutual benefit. He also persuaded them to accept his leadership and to join him in residence at the Old Man House.
At that point, the leaders of six families - formerly at odds and occasionally at war with one another - joined forces and began to co-operate, living side by side in the khwaac'ál'al at Suquamish. The family alliances that Si'ahl brokered remained largely intact for more than twenty years, and may have endured much longer had it not been for a sudden change in the political climate. Politics, wealth, families - everything in the Puget Sound Salish world - began to shift dramatically, with the arrival of White settlers beginning in the 1830s.
The settlement established by the
'Acihltalbikhw supplied a major part of the store's revenue,
like many other si'i'áb
from around Puget Sound, was a familiar face at the
Si'ahl entered the historic record
in 1833, when the British Hudson's Bay Company founded
In some ways, Si’ahl's life seems to have followed a familiar course. As with many who attain advanced age, his thoughts and emotions seem to have come full circle, the experiences of his boyhood reflected in his final years as an old man. The similarities seem particularly true of the favorable attitude he adopted toward the Khwúhltub.
There was, however, a period of time in young
adulthood when Si'ahl's
dealings with White settlers were less than cordial, at times openly
contentious. Many of the confrontations
either instigated, or found himself involved in, resulted from the social
The men who lived and worked at the Fort Nisqually trading post were a mix of 'Acihltalbikhw and Luhli'á'kwbikhw (foreigners), including Scottish, English, French-Canadians, Métis (mixed Native and European), Hawaiians, and people from the West Indies. Many who visited the fort found themselves in the company of strangers, all armed with weapons, not all of whom were met on good terms.
Si'ahl was known to carry a smoothbore shotgun, a kind of khwuhltubalch (a kind of gun sold at trading posts). It was said that Si'ahl frequently got into brawls on the beach outside the Nisqually stockade. So did his son S'ákw'ahl. The fights the two of them provoked were brutal and bloody, so much so that William Tolmie, manager of the trading post, wrote that he was glad when they left his fort.
Beyond homeland defense and disputes at the trading post, there are also reports that implicate Si'ahl and his son S'ákw'ahl as the aggressors in open warfare. It is said that S'ákw'ahl had killed a fellow Suquamish, and, to regain the loyalty of the Suquamish Nation, Si’ahl led a force against the Chimacum village at Hadlock.
Si'ahl and his son S'ákw'ahl reportedly participated in the destruction of C'íc'abus, a village at the head of a small lake near Cúbuqub (Chimacum) around Port Ludlow. One tradition attests that Cúbuqub controlled the trade on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, charging high tariffs on the goods coming through their territory. Also, they were aggressive toward many neighboring Nations, including the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh.
In the 1930s, William Elmendorf recorded
information about the Cúbuqub
raid as Nayakhqídub,
the son of Sk'alí
told it to him. Nayakhqídub was a Tuwádukhq (Twana) born
in the Skokomish country around
That same time, the 1840s and 1850s, was the era in which White settlers began to arrive in Olympia, in the area now called St'c'ás. One of the settlers at St'c'ás was the wife of Captain Robert Fay. She and her first husband arrived in 1851 and lived in a small log cabin on the edge of a large camping ground occupied by several hundred 'Acihltalbikhw, including Si'ahl and his family.
An eyewitness account by Mrs. Fay illustrates Si'ahl's
personality and the power of his voice.
In 1851, Mrs. Fay met Si’ahl at St'c'ás. Mrs. Fay's second husband Robert was one of
the first four settlers who landed by boat at Sqwudqs, the point of land at
Duwamish Head on
After a short time, the pioneers moved their camp southwest to Sbaqwabqs, Alki Point, where a second party of immigrants, including White women and children, arrived about a month later.
Below is an excerpt from a conversation with
Mrs. Fay, recorded in her later years as she reminisced about life at the
cabin. As with all historical
information, her comments should be considered in context. They are the impressions of a White settler,
quite young at the time, newly arrived on
For example, her sense of ownership of private property was diametrically opposed to the spirit of sharing and co-operation through shared resources that existed among the 'Acihltalbikhw who were her neighbors. Yet the scene she describes provides a good illustration of Si'ahl's commanding presence and the influence over many of his fellow 'Acihltalbikhw. It also illustrates his willingness to accommodate the needs of White immigrants, even in the most mundane of affairs.
The quote here was reproduced by Roberta Frye Watt in 1931:
"One day I put up a new clothesline, and the next day it was
gone. Mr. Alexander said he knew the
Indians had it and I'd better go and see
He drew in one big long breath and then I never in my life heard anything like the screech he gave. I was scared almost to death and almost fainted ... as every Indian in the tribe came running to where we stood .... They came, old and young, old men just crawling and young men running like horses, and old women and young women carrying babies, and little children and the dogs and everything that the camp held that was alive.
I did not know but I'd made him mad and they were going to kill me then
and there; but no, that wasn't it. Old
As soon as the way was clear, I got into my own house in a hurry but I'd no sooner stepped over the sill than an Indian came and handed me my clothesline. And that was the last thing I ever had stolen."
Si'ahl was said to have a personal connection to the supernatural being, Thunder. At Old Man House on Agate Pass, the seat of Si'ahl’s alliance leadership, the roof of the Old Man House rested on heavy t'álusud (crossbeams) supported by duqwduqwálud (thick wooden pillars) carved with figures of Skhwúqwub, the Thunderbird.
As a young adolescent, Si’ahl was sent out to quest for spirit power, and he was said to have been successful at least once. Skhwúqwub, also called Khwiqwadi', was thought by some to have been Si'ahl's personal squlálitut, the spirit that guided him through life, empowering and protecting him. Khwiqwadi' is one type of supernatural bird of prey. A huge, ominous raptor, he stalks Orca whales over the salt water. The motion of his wings striking together creates the shock wave of sound that erupts across the sky as thunder.
Thunder, a powerful being, would have given gave Si'ahl abilities as a warrior and orator. Several historical sources make reference to the thunderous quality of Si'ahl's voice, strong enough to be both heard and felt. When orating before a crowd, his speech could be understood at a distance of half a mile (more than a kilometer and a half) and at times the physical vibrations created by the sound of it caused a startled and palpable reaction in present, much like a sharp and sudden crash of thunder.
In 1993, when the
By 1851, Chief Si'ahl was a venerable leader respected for his peaceful ways, not his prowess at war. Chief Si'ahl and other members of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh Nation greeted the first European-American immigrants when they arrived at Alki Point, near Duwamish Head in what is now West Seattle.
From the early years of European-American settlement, Chief Si'ahl and the Dkhw’Duw’Absh worked hard to be protectors and benefactors of the immigrants. European-American immigrants perceived that Chief Si'ahl was an intelligent man striving to live amicably and peacefully with the newcomers.
Under Chief Si'ahl’s leadership, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh provided guides, transportation by canoe, and other tangible assistance, including labor for Henry Yesler's first sawmill, and potatoes from the Dkhw’Duw’Absh cultivated fields near Renton, enabling the new immigrants to survive and to thrive. The Dkhw’Duw’Absh Nation burned sections of forest to promote clearings for their crops, and felled trees for canoes and lumber for their longhouses, sharing their skills and knowledge with the immigrants.
Chief Si'ahl and his Nations were helpful in times of distress. With no cows available, the new European-American immigrants lacked milk for their children. The Dkhw’Duw’Absh showed them how to substitute clam juice. The Dkhw’Duw’Absh helped to shelter the newcomers, teaching them how long boards could be split from straight-grained cedar. The Dkhw’Duw’Absh also traded salmon, venison, furs, and even potatoes from Dkhw’Duw’Absh gardens, to the new arrivals.
In 1855, Washington Territory Governor Isaac Stevens convened a treaty meeting at Point Elliott, at a traditional harvesting camp site called Mukilteo. On January 22, 1855, the Duwamish Nation was listed first among the signers of the Point Elliott Treaty. Chief Si'ahl's name was placed at the very top of the treaty, reflecting his personal importance and that of his Nations. The Duwamish signers of the Point Elliott Treaty were Chief Si'ahl, and the Duwamish "sub-chiefs" Ts'huahntl, Now-a-chais, Ha-seh-doo-an.
The 1855 Treaty
created a Government-to-Government relationship between the
In return for the
reservation and other benefits promised in the treaty by the
immigrants soon violated the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, triggering a series
of Native rebellions from 1855 to 1858 known as "the Indian
War". Instigated by the
European-Americans, this war set Nation against Nation, and brother against
brother. Chief Si'ahl helped protect the
small group of European-American settlers from attacks by other Native warriors
in what became the City of
During the war that followed the violations of the new Treaties by the Whites, Si'ahl warned the settlement that took his name of an impending attack by Leschi, an old friend. It was said that, to some extent, this friendship among leaders of hostile factions was a balancing act to assure Native survival whatever the outcome of the war.
helped protect the small group of European-American settlers in what is now the
In 1865, the newly
elected City Fathers passed the first 12 laws of the
In 1866, United
States Indian Agent Thomas Paige recommended to the
The European-Americans immigrants' protest petition blocked any reservation being established for the Dkhw’Duw’Absh. Promises made by the United States United States government over 150 years ago to the Dkhw’Duw’Absh in the Point Elliott Treaty have never been honored.
The promise of a
Duwamish reservation and all of the other Treaty promises made by the
Lacking the reservation promised to the Dkhw’Duw’Absh, Chief Si'ahl and some of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh people moved to a small reservation created for the Dkhw’Suqw'Absh (the Suquamish Tribe) on the east shore of Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from the city named in honor of "Chief Seattle".
government set up reservations at distant places named "Tulalip" and
"Tulalip" and "Muckleshoot" were not traditional Dkhw’Duw’Absh villages. "Tulalip" was located in
risked imprisonment and other punishments to stay close to their traditional
homeland in villages along the rivers, lakes, and other waterways. Other Dkhw’Duw’Absh moved to reservations set up
By the time the first settlers arrived at Sqwudqs on the
At the intersection of 5th Avenue and Denny
Way in downtown Seattle stands a statue of Si'ahl dressed in the kind of stl'álabac he was thought to have worn. The statue, pictured above, was sculpted by
James Wehn, who based the likeness on descriptions
given by elderly White people in the early 1900's who knew or had seen Si'ahl in person
when they were young. There is another
sculpture by Wehn, a likeness of Si'ahl based on similar eyewitness accounts. It's located in
Si'ahl is thought to have been photographed only once, late in life, a year or two before his death. Many 'Acihltalbikhw, particularly the slulútl'tud (elders), disliked being photographed, and the picture of Si'ahl, his eyes averted from the camera, shows his discomfort.
For a long time, Si'ahl also disliked having the
town of “
In addition to having his name expropriated
for the city of
The content of Si'ahl's speech, however -- exactly what he may have said - is less clear. A popular version of his address was published more than thirty years after the fact, written in a newspaper article by a man named Henry Smith, who may have attended the celebration at which it was given. Smith's version of the speech is in English, a language Si'ahl didn't speak. If Smith recorded any of Si'ahl's words as he spoke them in his native Duwamish or Suquamish, they have never been published. The authenticity of the Smith text has always been a source of debate, with opinions of it running the gamut from complete acceptance to complete rejection. Some believe the text is an accurate translation of Si'ahl's words; others believe that Smith fabricated the text for his own purposes; still others believe that, although Smith may have taken liberties with the style and content, the speech largely captures Si'ahl's intent.
The historian Alexandra Harmon has pointed out
several aspects of the text that are questionable. The speech mentions, for instance, things
that Si'ahl was not likely to have been familiar
with. It talks of “vast prairies” (¶ 2)
who spent the entirety of his life near the saltwater of
Also, neither Si'ahl nor his ancestors were
known to have lived anywhere from which they would have fled from Whites. Such a comment, especially in light of the
reference to vast prairies, seems more likely to have been made by someone from
the Great Plains or from back East, or by someone who mistakenly thought that
had been driven to
Harmon also points out that the Smith text expresses attitudes that Si'ahl was never known to have embraced. The speech talks of 'Acihltalbikhw and Whites as 'distinct races' with 'little in common' (¶ 10), which is contrary to the camaraderie and spirit of co-operation that Si'ahl worked to foster among White leaders like David Maynard, David Denny, William DeShaw, and George Meigs, whom he admired and trusted as friends.
Also, it is notable that parts of the text
seem anachronistic. Harmon notes that
some of the language, particularly the references to the ‘Acihltalbikhw dying out, seems
inconsistent with the era in which the speech was given. In the mid 1850's, the majority of folks
There are, however, aspects of the Smith text that strike a chord with many who read it, and even folks who understand the skepticism recognize images and themes in the text that are familiar. The “shell-paved floor” of the sea that's mentioned in the fourth paragraph, for example, seems to be a reference to the beaches around the Old Man House. The bank, beach, and tidal basin near the house were white with crushed clamshells, the white seabed extending quite a ways out into the water. The accumulation of discarded shells, still partially visible, is a testament to the many gatherings that took place at the site.
It's also easy to imagine that the comment about the 'Acihltalbikhw 'ebbing away like a fast-receding tide that will never flow again' (¶ 9) is an allusion to the passing away of the culture that flourished during Si'ahl's father's generation, in an era when the Dkhw’Suqw’Absh and the Dkhw’Duw’Absh came into their own as merchants, amassing great wealth. The image of the past ebbing away with the water may have been reinforced in Si'ahl's mind by a recognition that the frame of his family's longhouse, a symbol of their prosperity, may in 1854 have already begun to be eroded by the motion of the tides. Old Man House sat at sea level out on a sand spit that offered little shelter from the tidewash and the corrosive force of the wind coming in from the Sound.
By 1870, shortly after Si'ahl's death, only a few pillars from the building were left at the site. Part of the wooden panel that was the house's façade and some of the wooden posts positioned at the front of the structure were uncovered around 1950, having fallen and been buried for years beneath an accumulation of silt.
As for the anachronisms in the text, for every
remark that seems too recent or too specific to the 1880's when Smith published
the speech, there is, in all fairness, a remark that seems equally well placed
in time. The comment, for instance, that
'our ancestors are sacred and their final resting place is hallowed' (¶ 10)
might seem fairly timeless, but there is actually a good reason why Si'ahl might have
made this particular remark in 1854.
Just two years prior, when the first White immigrants settled in what is
Once White settlers arrived in the area, though, it took only a short time for the skayúhali to be desecrated and destroyed. This burial ground was located just a few blocks from where Si'ahl would have been standing when he made his speech to the Governor, and his remark about the ancestors' resting place being hallowed might have been a way of informing Governor Stevens of what would have been a serious concern among the local skhWuhlch'absh, concern that the skayúhali be respected.
Concerns related to the spread of epidemic
may also account for the current of fatalism and dark foreboding that runs
through the text. By 1854, diseases
introduced by the xwúhltuhb
and the poverty and starvation (yuyúbil) that resulted from them were exacting a toll on the
Sxwuhlcabs. Beneath the skayúhali, on the shore below
In 1853, the year just before he addressed the Governor, many 'Acihltalbikhw died of smallpox after enduring prolonged pain, and the solemn tone of his speech may reflect the concern Si'ahl felt at the time for the health and welfare of those who were suffering.
There is, of course, much more that can be said about the Smith text, nearly all of it speculation. There are other criticisms that seem legitimate, and there are other images and themes that seem familiar and meaningful: the connection between a people and the land they are born to, the references to day and night, and dreams, and the strong bonds among families that aren't broken by death - to name just a few.
In addition to the public address to Governor Stevens that the Smith text may or may not be a translation of, Si'ahl is known to have given another speech, less well publicized, but no less significant. The speech was addressed to Michael Simmons, Stevens' colleague. Simmons was a territorial agent for Indian affairs who helped draft the land cession treaties of the 1850s, including the Point Elliott Treaty in which the federal government appropriated nearly all of the lands belonging to Si'ahl's extended family - and much more.
Through the Point Elliott document, the
As stated in Article Six of the treaty, 'all ... money shall be applied to the use and benefit of the said Indians, under the direction of the President of the United States, who may, from time to time, determine at his discretion upon what beneficial objects to expend [it]'.
The meeting between Si'ahl and Michael Simmons in 1858 was called to air grievances related to the treaty and the process by which it was made. At the gathering, Si'ahl spoke on behalf of the several hundred ‘Acihltalbikhw in attendance. Three years after the creation of the Point Elliott Treaty, the U.S. Senate had still not signed it into law. The government was refusing to uphold its end of the agreement as it had been explained to the si'i'áb, refusing to pay them for their land. Thus, Si’ahl’s speech was an appeal to Michael Simmons to honor his word.
Below is an excerpt from the speech, translated into English, as reproduced in 1941 by Archibald Binns:
"I want you to understand what I say. I do not drink rum, neither does Now-e-ches, and we constantly advise our people not to do so. I am not a bad man. I am, and always have been, a friend. I listen to what Mr. Page says to me, and I do not steal, nor do I or any of my people kill the Whites. Oh, Mr. Simmons, why do our papers not come back to us? You always say you hope they will soon come back, but they do not. I fear we are forgotten, or that we are cheated out of our lands. I have been very poor and hungry all winter, and am sick now. In a little while, I will die. I should like to be paid for my land... ."
Even as Si'ahl delivered his speech to
Mr. Simmons, time was beginning to catch up with him and his physical strength
had begun to falter. He lived at his
homes on the Port Madison Reservation, and probably north of the city limits
where the daughter of his first wife, called "Angeline" by settlers,
lived. He was also a regular visitor to
the city, visiting friends and caring for his people who worked there and continued
to gather at temporary campsites on its waterfront and on a barren rock pile in
Si'ahl spent his final years visiting with his
granddaughter Mary and her husband William DeShaw at
the Bonanza, the khwuyubal'tkhw
(trading post) DeShaw built near the khalkhálus at the
northern tip of
Si'ahl also spent time with his friend George Meigs at his sawmill (the búlla) in Port Madison.
In time, the great old man's health failed. He contracted a fever in 1866, and he died on the Port Madison Reservation. His memorial service was attended by many, both Native and White, including Meigs, who toward the end of the ceremony paused at the casket to grip Si'ahl's hand in friendship one last time, as Si'ahl had requested.
Si'ahl's grave in Suquamish, originally marked by a wooden cross, is now the site of a large stone monument. Buried next to him is his granddaughter Mary Talisa.
 Sdu'hobsh (Snohomish) elder didahalqid (Michael Evans). Personal communication to Tom Speer, September 2002.
 Source: David Buerge. Personal communication to Tom Speer, July 2004.
 Source: Clarence Bagley.
 Si'ahl descendent Shla'dai` (Mary Lou Slaughter, Duwamish and Suquamish). Personal communication to Tom Speer, June 2004.
 Lummi elder Sca'la (Pauline Hillaire), a descendent of Sakhumkun "the Older. Personal communication to Tom Speer, June 2004.
 Lummi elder Joseph Hillaire. Personal communication to Tom Speer, August 1965.
(Thomas R. Speer) was one of the invited guests at the
 Si'ahl descendent Shla'dai` (Mary Lou Slaughter, Duwamish and Suquamish). Personal communication to Tom Speer, July 2004.
Anderson, Eva Greenslit
Bagley, Clarence B.
"Chief Seattle and
Bagley, Clarence B.
S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929.
Ballard, Arthur C.
Reprint of the 1929 Publication. Recorded, translated and edited by Arthur C. Ballard with additional material by Kenneth (Greg) Watson, 1999.
of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population
Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons (essay)
University of Washington Library, "American Indians of the Pacific Northwest" website
Bureau of Indian Affairs
"Duwamish Judgment Rolls", "Record Group No. 75 BIA",
Si'alh. Lushootseed.Net website
Coast Salish Villages of
"When Chief Seattle (Si'al) Spoke," in Robin K. Wright, PhD. (ed.) A Time of Gathering: Native Heritage in
Seattle (Si'a). Encyclopedia of the North American Indians. Houghton Mifflin
University of Washington Library, "American Indians of the Pacific Northwest" website:
Compiled by Lakw’alas (Thomas R. Speer), Treasurer, Duwamish Tribal Services Board of Directors, for the Duwamish Tribe, July 22, 2004
"Freedom begins with love. Our challenge is to learn to love the world"
Nigerian writer Ben Okri, interview in Ode Magazine, Dec 2002-Jan 2003, p.49
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