Left: Franklin Pierce,
fourteenth president of the United States (1853-1857).
Right: The only known photo of Chief Seattle,
taken in the 1860s when he approached
80 years old.
We don't have
the "real" speech of Chief Seattle.
We have a
version translated from his notes by Mr. Smith.
The real version was in the Suquamish dialect of central Puget
sound Salish (Lushootseed),
Also there are some variations on that translation, I understand.
The purpose of this page is not to present the 'real version' of the
but to present
the various versions
controversy surrounding them.
"Man did not
weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."
There are two versions of
the speech of
chief of the Suquamish. Below is one version. The other
It is said that this version was written by Ted Perry and he
wrote the speech in the late 70's for a movie called "Home" which
was produced in the US by the Southern Baptist Convention.
He had no idea that
anyone would consider his work anything other than fiction, and he
has spent quite a bit of time in the past few years trying to set
the record straight.
From the 'The
Irish Press' of Friday June 4th, 1976...
In 1854, "The Great White Chief" in Washington made an offer for a
large area of Indian land and promised a "reservation" for the
chief of the
Suquamish and other Indian tribes
Washington's Puget Sound, delivered
considered to be one of the most beautiful
environmental statements ever made.
The city of
Seattle is named for the chief,
was in response to a proposed treaty
the Indians were persuaded to sell
acres of land for $150,000."
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 Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes
to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word
he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to
ourselves. 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
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 the 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
The earth is not his
brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves
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 than 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
The Indian prefers
the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond and
the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or
scented with pinyon 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
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.
So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to
accept, I will make one condition - the white man must treat the
beasts of this land as his brothers.
I am a savage and do not understand any other way. I have seen a
thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man
who shot them from a passing train.
I am a savage and do
not understand how the smoking iron horse can be made more
important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.
What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man
would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever
happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are
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 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. This we know. All things are connected like the blood
which unites one family. All things are connected.
Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend
to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. 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
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. The 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
That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when
the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the
secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men
and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone.
Where is the eagle?
The end of living and the beginning of survival.
[Chief Seattle's speech
was submitted by Dr. Glenn T. Olds at Alaska's Future
Frontiers conference in 1979.]
OF CHIEF SEATTLE'S TREATY ORATION 1854
by Roberta Frye Watt
& Mort, Portland Ore., 1934.
"Four Wagons West,"
Originally published in the Seattle Sunday Star, Oct. 29 1887
The text was produced by
one "Dr." Smith, an early settler in Seattle, who took notes
as Seattle spoke in the Suquamish dialect of central Puget sound
Salish (Lushootseed), and created
this text in English from those notes.
Smith insisted that his
version "contained none of the grace and elegance of the original".
The last two sentences of
the text here given have been considered for many years to have been
part of the original, but are now known to have been added by an
early 20th century historian and ethnographic writer,
There are many versions and excerpts from this text, including a
wholly fraudulent version mentioning buffalo and the
interconnectedness of all life which was written by a Hollywood
screenwriter in the late 70's and which has gained wide currency.
The bogus version
has been quoted by individuals as prominent and diverse as former
Bush and Joseph Campbell.
At the time this speech was made it was commonly believed by whites
and as well by many Indians that Native Americas would inevitably
"Alternate Statement" of Chief Seattle...
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for
centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and
eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast
My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle
says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much
certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons.
The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us
greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him for we
know he has little need of our friendship in return.
His people are many.
They are like the grass that covers vast prairies.
My people are few.
They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. The
great, and I presume - good, White Chief sends us word that he
wishes to buy our land but is willing to allow us enough to live
This indeed appears
just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that
he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, as we are no
longer in need of an extensive country.
There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves
of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time
long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now
but a mournful memory.
I will not dwell on,
nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface
brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to
Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real
or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint,
it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often
cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable
to restrain them.
Thus it has ever
been. Thus it was when the white man began to push our
forefathers ever westward. But let us hope that the hostilities
between us may never return. We would have everything to lose
and nothing to gain.
Revenge by young men
is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old
men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons
to lose, know better.
Our good father in Washington - for I presume he is now our
father as well as yours, since King George has moved his
boundaries further north - our great and good father, I say,
sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us.
His brave warriors
will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his wonderful
ships of war will fill our harbors, so that our ancient enemies
far to the northward - the Haidas and Tsimshians, will cease to
frighten our women, children, and old men. He in reality he will
be our father and we his children.
But can that ever be? Your God is not our God...!
Your God loves your people and hates mine!
He folds his strong
protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the
hand as a father leads an infant son. But, he has forsaken his
Red children, if they really are his.
Our God, the
Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God
makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill
all the land.
Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that
will never return. The white man's God cannot love our
people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can
look nowhere for help.
How then can we be
brothers? How can your God become our God and
renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning
If we have a common
Heavenly Father he must be partial, for he came to his
We never saw him. He gave you laws but had no word for his red
children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast
continent as stars fill the firmament.
No; we are two
distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies.
There is little in common between us.
To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting
place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your
ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was
written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God
so that you could not forget.
The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion
is the traditions of our ancestors - the dreams of our old men,
given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and
the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our
Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as
soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond
the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return.
Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being.
They still love its
verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent
mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays,
and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted
living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit,
guide, console, and comfort them.
Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled
the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before
the morning sun.
proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it
and will retire to the reservation you offer them.
Then we will dwell
apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to
be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense
It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They
will not be many. The Indian's night promises to be dark. Not a
single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds
moan in the distance.
Grim fate seems to be
on the Red Man's trail, and wherever he will hear the
approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly
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 the
descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad
land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit,
will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more
powerful and hopeful than yours.
But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people?
Tribe follows tribe,
and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the
order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may
be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man
whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend,
cannot be exempt from the common destiny.
We may be brothers
after all. We will see...
We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let
you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this
condition that we will not be denied the privilege without
molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors,
friends, and children.
Every part of this
soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside,
every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some
sad or happy event in days long vanished.
Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in
the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring
events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust
upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their
footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our
ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic
Our departed braves,
fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little
children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season,
will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet
shadowy returning spirits.
And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of
my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these
shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when
your children's children think themselves alone in the field,
the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the
pathless 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 are silent and you think
them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that
once filled them 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