Chief Seattle Resources

Chief Seattle in Nomadic Spirit pages

Friday night beers -- revisited
This was my first encounter with Chief Seattle,Ted Perry Text, written by an American screenwriter for a Hollywood film. I found it posted on the bathroom wall of a suburban Sydney home. It is among the least accurate texts, directly contradicting many of the statements made in the Smith Text. Not that I knew that at the time, or was wise enough to avoid falling into the "noble savage" trap.

"I'm really amazed that though I grew up in North America it would be on a suburban Sydney bathroom wall that I would find the following gem of a quote. Please tip your glasses to some savage wisdom." -- Patrick <sigh> Jennings

An eMail compendium.
These texts were forwarded to me by tom kunesh. The Washington State Library has since contacted me and confirmed that all the following materials were part of a dispatch originating from their facility. The first link is to a cover letter written by one of the librarians and the others represent attachments intended to clear up the issue (as much as possible) of just what Chief Seattle might have said.

Washington State Library
A useful dispatch from the office of the State Librarian, Washington State Library. It defines four versions of the speech attributed to Chief Seattle and quotes the opening lines of each. To this letter were attached the following items:

Just Too Good to Be True:
another reason to beware of false eco-prophets
An article challenging the authenticity of the Perry text. It is also a chastisement for those who fail to check their sources.

Museum of History and Industry
A brief historical outline of the conditions under which Chief Seattle originally spoke, and how the various textual transcriptions of that text came to be.

Joseph Campbell
It comforts me to know that someone with Campbell's academic credentials was also fooled by the Perry Text.

The Smith Text
The text most often referred to as 'authentic'. Smith was in attendance when Seattle originally spoke, but the speech Smith published was reconstructed some time later from memory and notes. Subtle variations of the Smith Text are floating around. For example, the The Alternate "Chief Seattle Statement" - with Editorial Commentary appends this final line to the speech:
Dead - did I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds!

Various Versions of the Speech

One of the first alternative texts I encountered. It is so different from the Perry Text I'd found that I began to wonder...

"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 with clouds. 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." -- Chief Seattle

Another early discovery of mine. Closer in content to Version 1 above than the Perry Text. This page incorporates the full Dr. Henry A. Smith article in which the speech appears.

"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." -- Dr. Henry A. Smith

This is the full Perry Text as I found it in the suburban Sydney bathroom.

" 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 sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? " -- Ted Perry, Hollywood Screenwriter

Another early discovery of mine. Closer in content to the Smith text above than the Perry Text.

"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? 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?"

Chief Seattle on the Web

Wikipedia :: Chief Seattle
The Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia is an exquisite result of the internet. This is a brief Wikipedia page, in need of some filling out.

Chief Seattle's grave marker reads "Seattle, Chief of the Suquamps and Allied Tribes, Died June 7, 1866. Firm Friend of the Whites, and For Him the City of Seattle was Named by Its Founders," and, on the reverse, "Baptismal Name: Noah Sealth, Age probably 80 years."
-- Wikipedia
Chief Seattle Bibliography
A page devoted to the controversy surrounding the authenticity of Seattle's speech.

"It's always fashionable to dispute the authenticity of the Chief Seattle speech. Skeptics gleefully brandish some apocryphal 'source'; and then go hack down a couple of rain forests...Seattle devotees feverishly clutch their versions and champion them with the wildeyed passion of Bible Defenders.

"It undermines one of the many 'credos' of the environmental movement." -- John M. Rich from Chief Seattle's Unanswered Challenge

Suquamish Tribe
Chief Seattle's tribe has so far avoided the extinction Seattle himself feared. They've put up a nice little website with cultural/traditional information and yet another variation of the Smith Text.

"Chief Seattle, a hereditary leader of the Suquamish Tribe, was born around 1786, passed away on June 7, 1866, and is buried in the tribal cemetery at Suquamish, Washington. The speech Chief Seattle recited during treaty negotiations in 1854 is regarded as one of the greatest statements ever made concerning the relationship between a people and the earth - that speech, published in the Seattle Sunday Star , Seattle, Washington Territory, October 29, 1887, is reproduced here for you." -- Suquamish Tribe Website

Omni magazine, 1992
A page from the Urban Legends Archive containing the 1992 Omni Magazine article by Linda Marsa.

Wrong, say scholars. "Native American culture is constantly being exploited and apporpriated as illustrations of whatever European theory is in fashion," says Jack D. Forbes, a professor of Native American studies at the University of California at Davis. These range from the extreme individualism of the 1983 novel _Hanto Yo_ to the New Age spiritualism of Lynn Andrews. "When," asks Forbes, echoing the frustrations of other Native Americans, "will the thefts of our spiritual traditions end?" -- Linda Marsa

The Alternate "Chief Seattle Statement" - with Editorial Commentary
Well, in true full-circle fashion, this old page hails from Australia, the land where I first encountered Chief Seattle. In addition to the statement itself, yet another version of The Smith Text, and some insightful commentary, there're also a lotta links to Native American resources.

"It has been brought to my attention since our publication of the "Statement of Chief Seattle" (which I had read in a local newspaper in the wild west of Southern Ireland in the summer of 1977) that this statement, in fact, was not the statement made by the chief." -- PRF Brown

Books about Chief Seattle's Speech

Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature
by Brian Swann, Arnold Krupat. University of California Press, 1987
Recommended by Nancy Zussy, State Librarian, Washington State Library

The best description of the saga of Chief Seattle's speech can be found in an essay by Rudolf Kaiser: "Chief Seattle's Speech(es): American Origins and European Reception" published in Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature

Answering Chief Seattle
by Albert Furtwangler
An academic text thoroughly exploring the history of Seattle.

"English professor Furtwangler, who has previously written on historical topics (e.g., Acts of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis & Clark Journals, Univ. of Illinois, 1993), first examines the origins of the speech and the setting in which it was purportedly made. Concluding that it is not certain that Seattle uttered the sentiments attributed to him, he then places the speech in the context of the intellectual thought of that era. He also looks at Stevens's role in the Washington Territory." -- Library Journal

The World of Chief Seattle : How Can One Sell The Air?
by Warren Jefferson
The Publisher's Weekly says of it:

In his debut work, Warren Jefferson pays tribute to The World of Chief Seattle. For 11,000 years his people, the Suquamish, have lived across the bay from the city that took their chief's name. Most famous for his 1854 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.

Chief Seattle's Speech (1853)
This book appears to provide a version associated with the Smith Text.

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message From Chief Seattle
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
[ Not recommended! ]This book contains the Perry Text illustrated for grade school consumption.

Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the children of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

  graphical element
attributed to Chief Seattle
but actually the words of Ted Perry