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Chief Seattle gave his now famous speech in during treaty negotiations with the U.S. government, which was intent on forcing the Native people of Washington's Puget Sound onto reservations.
Table of contents
Sammis in The speech or "letter" attributed to Chief Seattle has been widely cited as a "powerful, bittersweet plea for respect of Native American rights and environmental values". The evolution of the text of Chief Seattle's speech, from a flowery Victorian paean to peace and territorial integrity, into a much briefer environmentalist credo, has been chronicled by several historians.
The first attempt to reconstruct this history was a essay in the U.
Chief Seattle | Roz Savage
National Archives' Prologue magazine. This then prompted a new discussion, first in the Seattle Weekly and then in Newsweek. The oldest extant record of this document is a transcript published in the Seattle Sunday Star in , in a column by Henry A. Smith , a poet, doctor, and early white settler of the Seattle area. The occasion of the speech was a visit by the newly appointed Governor, Isaac Stevens. The governor's visit to a council of local tribal chiefs that year is corroborated by the historical record. However the date, the location, and the actual words of Chief Seattle's speech are disputed.
There is a written record of a later meeting between Governor Stevens and Chief Seattle, taken by government interpreters at the Point Elliott Treaty signing on January 22, But the proceedings of this meeting bear no resemblance to the reminiscence that Dr. Smith recorded in According to Smith's recollection, Doc Maynard introduced Governor Stevens, who then briefly explained his mission, which was already well understood by all present. Chief Seattle 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.
And Smith then presents a detailed translation of the speech. But recent scholarship questions the authenticity of Smith's version of the speech. Chief Seattle most probably spoke in the Lushootseed language, and someone then translated his words into Chinook Jargon , a limited trading language, that a third person then translated into English. But Smith's English version is in a flowery Victorian prose, and Smith noted that he had recorded "but a fragment of his [Seattle's] speech".
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Moreover, Smith's version of the speech does not square with the recollections of other witnesses; and as we have seen, Smith himself may not have been present as a witness. As a result of such discrepancies, staff of the National Archives in Washington, DC, concluded that the speech is most likely fiction.
However, a spokesperson for the Suquamish Nation has said that according to their traditions, Dr. Smith consulted the tribal elders numerous times before publishing his transcript of the speech in The elders apparently saw the notes Dr. Smith took while listening to the speech. Smith's notes are no longer extant. They may have been lost in the Great Seattle Fire, when Smith's office burned down. Why, however, did Smith wait thirty years to publish his transcript of the speech?
It seems most likely that Smith's reason for publishing the speech was political. Newly arrived immigrants were starting to overpower the original pioneers who had dominated local politics. There was a bitterly contested election, with one newspaper claiming these new immigrants wanted "the overthrow of our institutions, The first few subsequent versions can be briefly enumerated: in , Frederick James Grant's History of Seattle, Washington reprinted Smith's version.
In , Clarence B. That same year, John M. In the late s, a new era dawned in the fame of the speech and in its further modification. This began with a series of articles by William Arrowsmith , a professor at the University of Texas, which revived interest in Seattle's speech. Arrowsmith had come across the speech in a collection of essays by the President of Washington State University.
At the end of one of the essays, there were some quotes from Smith's version of Chief Seattle's speech. Arrowsmith said it read like prose from the Greek poet Pindar. With interest aroused, he found the original source. After reading it, he decided to try improving Smith's version of the speech, by removing Victorian influences.
Arrowsmith attempted to get a sense of how Chief Seattle might have spoken, and to establish some "likely perimeters of the language. But the massive fame of Chief Seattle's speech is probably due to a poster printed in , which shows a picture of Chief Seattle overlaid with words from his "letter" to "the president in Washington". The words are in fact taken from Arrowsmith's version of the speech, but with further modifications such as the image of shooting buffalo from trains, and the line "The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.
The poster was made to promote a movie called Home , an environmentalist movie produced for the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission.
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But Perry was not credited with this because, according to Perry, the producer thought the movie would seem more authentic if the text was attributed directly to Chief Seattle himself and not to a screenwriter. I first heard a version of the text read by William Arrowsmith at the first Environmental Day celebration in I was there and heard him. He was a close friend. Arrowsmith's version hinted at how difficult it was for Seattle to understand the white man's attitude toward land, water, air, and animals. For the soundtrack for a documentary I had already proposed about the environment, I decided to write a new version, elaborating on and heightening what was hinted at in Arrowsmith's text While it would be easy to hide behind the producer's decision, without my permission, to delete my "Written by" credit when the film was finished and aired on television, the real problem is that I should not have used the name of an actual human being, Chief Seattle.
That I could put words into the mouth of someone I did not know, particularly a Native American, is pure hubris if not racist. While there has been some progress in our knowledge of Native Americans, we really know very little. What we think we know is mediated by films, chance encounters, words, images and other stereotypes.
They serve our worldview but they are not true. It turns out that the producer, John Stevens, had added a lot of elements to make the speech compatible with Baptist theology, including the words "I am a savage and do not understand. I edited the speech to fit our needs [Baptists] more closely. There was no apple pie and motherhood and so I added the references to God and I am a savage to make the Radio and Television Commission happy I had edited scripts that did not have the Baptists' line dozens of times.
This needed to be done so they could justify spending thousands of dollars on a film I eventually quit my job as a producer because I got tired of shoehorning those interests into scripts. The version of Chief Seattle's speech edited by Stevens was then made into a poster and 18, copies were sent out as a promotion for the movie.
In Nancy Zussy, a librarian at Washington State University, analyzed the versions of Chief Seattle's speech or "letter" which were then in circulation. A similar controversy surrounds a purported letter from Seattle to President Franklin Pierce , which has never been located and, based on internal evidence, is described by historian Jerry L. Clark as "an unhistorical artifact of someone's fertile literary imagination".
The first environmental version was published in the November 11, issue of Environmental Action magazine. By this time it was no longer billed as a speech, but as a letter from Chief Seattle to President Pierce. Jones himself has since said that he "first saw the letter in September in a now out of business Native American tabloid newspaper.
This story of Chief Seattle and his tribe, the Suquamish, gives readers a much better understanding of the great Chief who had the city of Seattle named after him.
Renowned today for an eloquent speech given during treaty negotiations with the U. Included is the complete speech as recorded by Dr. Henry Smith and recognized by the Elders of the tribe to be the most accurate account of the speech. Also included is a look at the Suquamish today, along with many rare 19th and 20th century photographs of village life dispersed throughout the book. For 11, years his people, the Suquamish, have lived across the bay from the city that took their chief's name.
Most famous for his speech promising the American government peace and respect in return for the same, Chief Seattle saw his world diminish during his long and celebrated life, as a result of the appropriation of land by the American government, the introduction of Euro-American diseases and the suppression of many tribal customs and religious practices.