This extraordinary speech was allegedly delivered by Noah Sealth, "Chief Seattle" in the fall of 1854, in the front of Dr. Maynard's office, near the waterfront on Main Street, and was in response to an address by Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory.
It was given in the Duwamish tongue as Sealth didn't speak English and was translated by Dr. Henry Smith. It was published much later, on October 29, 1887, in the Seattle Sunday Star. How much of the beauty that follows belongs to Seattle and how much to Dr. Smith's translation is debatable, but the text is powerful and prescient- marvelously cadenced, austere and elegant. Modern leaders and diplomats sound crass and empty by comparison.
For those of you in Puget Sound, its only a short drive (or ferry ride) over to the Olympic Peninsula to visit his gravesite in Saint Peter's Churchyard, Suquamish, Washington.
Seattle Sunday Star, October 29, 1887
His Native Eloquence, Etc., Etc. by
Henry A. Smith. Scraps from a Diary:
"Chief Seattle - A gentleman By Instinct"
10th article in the series Early Reminiscences
Old Chief Seattle was the largest Indian I ever saw, and by far the noblest-looking. He stood 6 feet full in his moccasins, was broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and finely proportioned. His eyes were large, intelligent, expressive and friendly when in repose, and faithfully mirrored the varying moods of the great soul that looked through them. He was usually solemn, silent, and dignified, but on great occasions moved among assembled multitudes like a Titan among Lilliputians, and his lightest word was law.
When rising to speak in council or to tender advice, all eyes were turned upon him, and deep-toned, sonorous, and eloquent sentences rolled from his lips like the ceaseless thunders of cataracts flowing from exhaustless fountains, and his magnificent bearing was as noble as that of the most cultivated military chieftain in command of the forces of a continent. Neither his eloquence, his dignity, or his grace were acquired. They were as native to his manhood as leaves and blossoms are to a flowering almond.
His influence was marvelous. He might have been an emperor but all his instincts were democratic, and he ruled his loyal subjects with kindness and paternal benignity.
He was always flattered by marked attention from white men, and never so much as when seated at their tables, and on such occasions he manifested more than anywhere else the genuine instincts of a gentleman.
When Governor Stevens first arrived in Seattle and told the natives he had been appointed commissioner of Indian affairs for Washington Territory, they gave him a demonstrative reception in front of Dr. Maynard's office, near the waterfront on Main Street. The bay swarmed with canoes and the shore was lined with a living mass of swaying, writhing, dusky humanity, until old Chief Seattle's trumpet-toned voice rolled over the immense multitude, like the startling reveille of a bass drum, when silence became as instantaneous and perfect as that which follows a clap of thunder from a clear sky.
The governor was then introduced to the native multitude by Dr. Maynard, and at once commenced, in a conversational, plain, and straightforward style, an explanation of his mission among them, which is too well understood to require capitulation. When he sat down, Chief Seattle arose with all the dignity of a senator, who carries the responsibilities of a great nation on his shoulders. Placing one hand on the, governor's head and slowly pointing heavenward with the index finger of the other, he commenced his memorable address in solemn and impressive tones...
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries
untold, and which, to us, looks eternal, may change. Today it is fair,
tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds.
My words are like stars that never set. What Seattle says, the great chief,
Washington can rely upon, with as much certainty as our paleface brothers
can rely upon the return of the seasons.
The son of the white chief says his father sends us greetings of friendship
and good will. This is kind, for we know he has little need of our friendship
in return, because his people are many. They are like the grass that covers
the vast prairies, while my people are few, and resemble the scattering trees
of a storm-swept plain.
The great- and I presume also good white chief sends us word that he wants
to buy our lands but is willing to allow us to reserve enough to live on
comfortably. This indeed appears generous, for the Red Man no longer
has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, for we are
no longer in need of a great country.
There was a time when our people covered the whole land, as the waves of a
wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor. But that time has long since
passed away with the greatness of tribes now almost forgotten. I will not
mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers for
hastening it, for we, too, may have been somewhat to blame.
When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong,
and disfigure their faces with black paint, their hearts also are disfigured
and turn black, and then their cruelty is relentless and knows no bounds,
and our old men are not able to restrain them.
But let us hope that hostilities between the red man and his paleface
brothers may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing
True it is, that revenge, with our young braves, is considered gain, even at
the cost of their own lives. But old men who stay at home in times of war,
and old women, who have sons to lose, know better.
Our great father Washington- for I presume he is now our father as well as
yours, since George has moved his boundaries to the north; our great and
good father, I say, sends us word by his son, who, no doubt, is a great chief
among his people, that if we do as he desires, he will protect us.
His brave armies will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his great ships
of war will fill our harbors so that our ancient enemies far to the northward,
the Simsiams and Hydas, will no longer frighten our women and old men.
Then he will be our father and we will be his children.
But can this ever be? Your God loves your people and hates mine; he folds
his strong arms lovingly around the white man and leads him as a father leads
his infant son, but he has forsaken his red children; he makes your people
wax strong every day, and soon they will fill the land, while my people are
ebbing away like a fast-receding tide, that will never flow again.
The white man's God cannot love his red children or he would protect them.
They seem to be orphans and can look nowhere for help. How then can we
become brothers? How can your father become our father and bring us
prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness?
Your God seems to us to be partial. He came to the white man. We never
saw Him; never even heard His voice; He gave the white man laws but He
had no word for His red children whose teeming millions filled this vast
continent as the stars fill the firmament.
No, we are two distinct races and must ever remain so. There is little in
common between us. The ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final
resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander away from the tombs
of your fathers seemingly without regret.
Your religion was written on tables of stone by the iron finger of an angry
God, lest you might forget it, The red man could never remember nor
Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dream of our old men,
given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written
in the hearts of our people.
Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they
pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are
soon forgotten, and never return.
Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still
love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales,
and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living
and often return to visit and comfort them.
Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever fled the
approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the mountainside flee
before the blazing morning sun.
However, your proposition seems a just one, and I think my folks will accept
it and will retire to the reservation you offer them, and we will dwell apart
and in peace, for the words of the great white chief seem to be the voice
of nature speaking to my people out of the thick darkness that is fast
gathering around them like a dense fog floating inward from a midnight sea.
It matters but little where we pass the remainder of our days.
They are not many.
The Indian's night promises to be dark. No bright star hovers about the
horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some grim Nemesis of our
race is on the red man's trail, and wherever he goes he will still hear the
sure approaching footsteps of the fell destroyer and prepare to meet his doom,
as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.
A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of all the mighty hosts
that once filled this broad land or that now roam in fragmentary bands
through these vast solitudes will remain to weep over the tombs of a people
once as powerful and as hopeful as your own.
But why should we repine? Why should I murmur at the fate of my people?
Tribes are made up of individuals and are no better than they. Men come
and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a tamanawus, a dirge, and they are
gone from our longing eyes forever. Even the white man, whose God walked
and talked with him, as friend to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny.
We may be brothers after all. We shall see.
We will ponder your proposition, and when we have decided we will tell you.
But should we accept it, I here and now make this the first condition: That
we will not be denied the privilege, without molestation, of visiting at will
the graves of our ancestors and friends. Every part of this country is sacred
to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been
hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe,
Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the
silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events
connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet
responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the
ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic
touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.
The noble braves, and fond mothers, and glad-hearted maidens, and the little
children who lived and rejoiced here, and whose very names are now forgotten,
still love these solitudes, and their deep fastness at eventide grow shadowy
with the presence of dusky spirits.
And when the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his
memory among white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall
swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children
shall think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway
or in the silence of the woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there
is no place dedicated to solitude. At night, when the streets of your cities
and villages shall be silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng
with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land.
The white man will never be alone.
Let him be just and deal kindly with my people,
for the dead are not altogether powerless."
Dr. Smith's remarks:
Other speakers followed, but I took no notes. Governor Stevens' reply was brief. He merely promised to meet them in general council on some future occasion to discuss the proposed treaty. Chief Seattle's promise to adhere to the treaty, should one be ratified, was observed to the letter, for he was ever the unswerving and faithful friend of the white man. The above is but a fragment of his speech, and lacks all the charm lent by the grace and earnestness of the sable old orator, and the occasion. - H.A. Smith.
Some references: Washington State History Wikipedia.org