This sample Chief Seattle Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Chief Seattle, leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish people of the Puget Sound area in what is today the state of Washington, was responsible for continued good relations between his people and the new white settlers in the Pacific Northwest. By consistently choosing not to fight the encroaching settlers, his people knew peace throughout the turbulent nineteenth century. Chief Seattle is best known for the farewell speech he delivered before removing his people to a reservation, despite much controversy over the speech’s authenticity.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Appreciative of Two Worlds
Chief Seattle was born around 1786 in the central Puget Sound area in what is now Washington State. Schweabe, his father, was a Suquamish chief, while his mother, Scholitza, was the daughter of a Duwamish chief. As a member of a patrilineal society, that is, one in which power was handed down from father to son, Chief Seattle learned his father’s Suquamish dialect.
When Chief Seattle was four years old, European settlers arrived in the Puget Sound area. In later years, he said he was present when Captain George Vancouver anchored the British ship H. M. S. Discovery off Bain-bridge Island on May 20, 1792. Chief Seattle claimed that his lifelong appreciation of Westerners was formed during the explorer’s visit.
According to early Seattle historian Clarence Bagley, Chief Seattle was known to be a courageous, daring leader when he was a young warrior. In 1810, a Duwamish alliance with the neighboring Suquamish gave Chief Seattle control of the affiliated tribes, and he continued the amiable relations with white settlers that his father had begun. By the 1840s, Chief Seattle had been converted to Catholicism by French missionaries and was baptized as “Noah.” In addition to having his children baptized as well, Chief Seattle instituted morning and evening church services for Native Americans.
The California gold rush of 1849 filled the Pacific Northwest with white settlers seeking the natural wealth of the area. Chief Seattle continued to cooperate with the newcomers, and he often spoke out for friendship and open trade with the settlers. Always fascinated by white culture, he became good friends with David “Doc” Maynard. Besides saving Doc when another Native American tried to kill the man, Chief Seattle also helped protect a small group of settlers from Native American attacks. Out of respect for their friend and ally, the whites at Puget Sound named their settlement after him in 1852. Seattle’s people, however, believed that frequently mentioning a dead person’s name would disturb that person’s eternal rest. In order to use his name for their city, the settlers agreed to pay the chief a small tax for the trouble that his spirit would encounter when his name was said.
Losing the Land
As settlers continued to pour into the area, the U.S. government pressed the issue of purchasing land from the Native Americans. In December 1854, Chief Seattle met with Washington territorial governor Isaac Stevens to discuss the sale of native lands in exchange for smaller reservations and government money. At that time, he agreed to help the whites and the U.S. government by moving the Puget Sound bands to a reservation. His famous—and controversial—farewell speech at this meeting was purportedly translated into English and transcribed by Dr. Henry Smith, a recent arrival to the area.
In 1855, Chief Seattle signed the Port Elliott treaty between the Puget Sound Native Americans and the United States. Soon after the treaty was signed, however, its terms were broken by whites. This betrayal led to a series of Native American uprisings from 1855 to 1858, including the Yakim War from 1855 to 1856. In accordance with the treaty, Chief Seattle moved his people to the Port Madison reservation, located across Puget Sound from the current city of Seattle, on the east shore of Bainbridge Island. He died on the reservation in 1866 after a brief illness.
Works in Literary Context
Notwithstanding debate over its accuracy, Chief Seattle’s oration is well known in American society today. For instance, the text of his speech has been anthologized in American literature books many times. Furthermore, news and television media have frequently quoted his words, and the Smithsonian Institution’s ”Nations of Nations” exhibit includes an excerpt of Seattle’s speech. Probably the most important aspect of Chief Seattle’s legacy lies within the role he played in fostering peaceful interactions between whites and Native Americans and contributing to the history of the Pacific Northwest.
The Language of the Earth
Linguistic theorists hundreds of years ago, notes linguist Thomas H. Guthrie, speculated that the first languages were purely figurative and poetic; Native American languages are no exception, as they characteristically reduce speech to image. Native Americans, who considered themselves to be children of nature, expressed their humanity using metaphor and imagery reflective of the natural world around them.
In his 1854 oration, Chief Seattle makes a passionate, sorrowful appeal to the settlers, asking that they honor the land as he and his people have done. His intensity was not lost on his listeners, nor has it been lost on generations of readers. ”Nineteenth-century writers commonly suggested,” states Guthrie, that metaphor and the ”rich use of figurative language … [made Native American] speeches more lofty and impressive.” In fact, so powerful is Chief Seattle’s choice of words, continues Guthrie, that ”we commune with him, listen to his complaints, understand, appreciate, and even feel his injuries.”
Works in Critical Context
Chief Seattle’s 1854 address to the Washington territorial governor about the status of his people and their future was said to have been moving and expressed very well. Unfortunately, at least four versions of the speech have been printed throughout the years, and no one knows for certain which is the most accurate. Still, even though historians disagree about its different versions, Chief Seattle’s famous speech remains an important document for its look at dealings between Native Americans and whites.
Academics have long debated which native dialect Chief Seattle would have used, either Suquamish or Duwamish, in his speech. They do agree that no matter what dialect Chief Seattle spoke, his words were translated immediately into Chinook, a Northwest trade language, and then into English for U.S. government representatives. The only surviving transcript was produced from the notes reportedly taken by Dr. Henry Smith as Chief Seattle spoke; however, Dr. Smith waited thirty years before he transcribed his notes. On October 29, 1887, the Seattle Sunday Star published what Dr. Smith maintained was the basic substance of Chief Seattle’s words. Common criticism of this first version is that Dr. Smith ”rendered his memory of Chief Seattle’s speech in the rather ornate (to modern ears) English of Victorian oratory,” contends scholar Kenneth Greg Watson, leading some readers to believe that Smith made up at least part of the speech that was published.
The harshest critics of Seattle’s speech argue that his words have been used as propaganda to ”justify and fortify current attitudes regarding the treatment of the first Americans and the natural environment in the United States,” claims academic Jerry A. Clark. According to Watson, Chief Seattle’s text was revived in the 1960s by writers who introduced completely new material, and ”these fabricated versions became something of a manifesto for human rights and environmental activists.” Clark agrees that ”the attitudes reflected . . . are in harmony with those professed by individuals upset at the damage to the natural environment perpetrated by our industrial society.” No matter how embellished Chief Seattle’s speech has become over the years, however, ”the words themselves,” writes Watson, ”remain a powerful, bittersweet plea for respect of Native American rights and environmental values.”
- Eckrom, J. A. Remembered Drums: A History of the Puget Sound Indian War. Walla Walla, Wash.: Pioneer Press Books, 1989.
- Kaiser, Rudolf. ”Chief Seattle’s Speech(es): American Origins and European Reception,” in Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
- Watt, Roberta Frye. Four Wagons West. Portland, Ore.: Binsford & Mort, 1934.
- Buerge, David. ”Seattle Before Seattle.” Seattle Weekly (December 17, 1980).
- Buerge, David. ”Seattle’s King Arthur: How Chief Seattle Continues to Inspire His Many Admirers to Put Words in His Mouth.” Seattle Weekly (July 17,1991).
- Chief Seattle Arts. Chief Seattle, According to an Early Historian. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from http:// www.markhoffman.net/history/chiefseattle/bagley.htm.
- Clark, Jerry A. Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of an Undocumented Speech. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from http://www.archives.gov/publications/ prologue/1985/spring/chief-seattle.html.
- Guthrie, Thomas H. Good Words: Chief Joseph and the Production of Indian Speech(es), Texts, and Subjects. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from http://ethno history.dukejournals.org/cgi/reprint/54/3/ 509.pdf.
- Watson, Kenneth Greg. Seattle, Chief Noah (178?-1866). Retrieved August 25, 2008, from http://www. historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5071.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.