Chief Seattle's Speech

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Chief Seattle's Speech

Post by edfrank » Mon Mar 15, 2010 3:56 pm

Chief Seattle's Speech
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One of the considerations facing us as a society is how we deal with the culture of native Americans and their history. The native American tribes and peoples had rich and diverse cultures and histories. They were however a preliterate society and these cultural attributes were passed down from one generation to the next in the form of traditions, oral histories, and stories. Oral histories are subject to revisons to make them more meaningful to the current generation and are therefore are mutable over time. This is not a criticism, but an observation.

In European history, even with the ability to write the histories of events as they occurred, changed over time. The concept of history as a representation of truth was foreign to most historians as they saw history as a form of entertainment and a source for teaching parables and lessons. Heroditus, a Greek scholar was the first to try to present history as a representation of truth in a nine voluem history of the world in the fifth century BC. Even his works incorporates myths and tales. The concept of hisory as truth never really caught on until late in the Roman Empire.

Back to native American stories and histories. Without a written language the earliest acounts we have of many native American stories and histories are those written by European explorers, settlers, and military men. These were written as interpereted through their own understanding of the language being spoken and throguh the veil of tehir own predjudices and beliefs. Later versions were retelling of these accounts by other European - Americans, or an occasional account by a native American writer. Certainly these later accounts have been affected by the events that took place since the settlement of the continent by non-native peoples. that is part of the tradition.

In modern film and literature native Americans have been both demonized and idolized depending on the mood of teh popular culture at the time and of the poitical perspective and goals of the authors. This brings us to the story of a famous speech made by Chief Seattle. In 1851 the Suquamish and other Indian tribes around Washington's Puget Sound were faced with a proposed treaty which in part persuaded them to sell two million acres of land for $150,000. The speech has been cited by some as an icon of the ecological movement and a demonstration of the prescience of Chief Seattle and of the native American views on the natural world.

However the speech as commonly cited is not a transcript of any speech given by Seattle in 1851, but one of modern origin that had been attributed to him from a movie. Some of these discussions are presented in a Wilkipedia article:

Here is a copy of the oration attributed to Chief Seattle: to Isaac Ingalls Stevens, governor of the Washington Territory, in the year 1854 or 1855, at the site of the present metropolis of Seattle ... attle.html :

Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon our fathers for centuries untold. . . . The son of the White Chief says his father sends us greetings of friendship and good will. This is kind of him, 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: they resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. . . . There was a time when our people covered the whole land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor, but that time has long since passed away with the greatness of tribes almost forgotten. . . . When the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the white man, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your childrens' children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. . . . The White Men will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless— Dead— I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds.

In addition, Chief Seattle allegedly wrote the following letter to President Franklin Pierce in 1855:

The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. . . . But we will consider your offer, for we know if we do not . . . the white man may come with guns and take our lands. . . . How can you buy or sell the sky— the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. . . . Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. . . . When the buffaloes are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the views of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.
Here is a nice presentation of these words form youtube:

These are not the words spoken by Seattle at that time. The earliest account of the speech are a version written in an article in a Seattle newspaper from 1887 in which a Dr. Henry A. Smith reconstructed a speech by the Duwamish Chief on the occasion "When Governor Stevens first arrived in Seattle and told the natives that he had been appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory," an event dated by Rich as December 1854. This account was based upon notes taken by another translater who attended the event some 28 years earlier.

Here is an account of a investigation of the content of the speach made by Seatle from Youtube.

Chief Seattle's Speech
by conradleviston

An account of my encounters with Chief Seattle's speech, and what I think it means to the way we approach history.

Again an excellent accont of the overall context of these words is found here: ... attle.html

Overall, this has been an interesting personal investigation of the Chief Seattle speech

Edward Frank
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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James Parton
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Re: Chief Seattle's Speech

Post by James Parton » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:07 pm


I have read of Chief Seattle's speech before and knew it had been altered in more recent times. While I like the message the new version gives it should be held distictly different from the older original. It is simply a work of fiction. However, The message on the newer version is so true. Our world is so dominated by " talking wires " roads and parking lots. By our clustered population centers. I like our modern conveniences but should we have to give up so much for them? I think the world governments give us little choice, unless we stand up en' masse and demand change.

I mentioned "Star Wars " in another post. Remember Coruscant? It is a planet that is completely urbanized. None of the natural world remains. Is that Earth's fate?

James Parton
James E Parton
Ovate Course Graduate - Druid Student
Bardic Mentor
New Order of Druids ... Itemid=145

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