CHIEF SEATTLE'S 1854 SPEECH
In 1854 the Indian Chief Noah Sealth, anglicized as Chief Seattle, responded in a very special way to President Franklin Pierce's proposal to create an Indian reservation and end confrontations between Indians and whites. In 1855 was signed the Treaty of Point Elliot, where the whites taken the lands and consummated native Indians. Noah Sealth, in his response to the president, created the first manifest in defense of the environment and nature that has endured over time. The Indian chief died on June 7, 1866 at the age of 80 years. His memory has been over time and his words are still valid.
“Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon our fathers for centuries untold, and which to us looks eternal, may change. Today it is fair, tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds.
My words are like the stars that never set. What Seattle says the Great Chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as our paleface brothers can rely upon the return of the seasons.
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 by 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 wants to buy our lands but is willing to allow us to
reserve enough to live on comfortably. This indeed appears generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, for we are no longer in need of a
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 now almost forgotten. I will not dwell on nor mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, for we, too may have been somewhat to blame.
Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, their hearts also are disfigured and turn black, and then they are often cruel and relentless and know no bounds, and our old men are unable to restrain them.
Thus it has ever been. Thus it was when the white man first began to push our fore-fathers westward. But let us hope that the hostilities between the Red Man and his paleface brother may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
It is true that
revenge by young braves 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 at Washington - for I presume he is now our father as well as yours, since King George has moved his boundaries farther 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 great ships of war will fill our harbors so that our ancient enemies far to the northward - the Sinsiams, Hydas and Tsimpsians - will no longer frighten our women and old men. Then will he 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 arms lovingly around the white man and leads him as a father leads his infant son - but He has forsaken His red children, if they are really His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems, also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax strong every day - soon they will fill all the land.
My people are ebbing away like a fast-receding tide that will never flow again. The white man's God cannot love His red children or He would protect them. We seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help.
How, then, can we become brothers? How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness?
Your God seems to us to be partial. He came to the white man. We never saw Him, never heard His voice. He gave the white man laws, but had no word for His red children whose teeming millions once filled this vast continent as the stars fill the firmament. No. We are two distinct races, and must ever remain so, with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us.
To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander far from the grave of your ancestors and, seemingly, without regret.
Your religion was written on tablets of stone by the iron finger of an angry God, lest you might forget it. The Red Man could never comprehend nor remember it.
Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors - the dreams of our old men, given to them in the solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit, and the visions of our Sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.
Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the ports of the tomb - they wander far away beyond the stars, are soon forgotten and never return.
Our dead never
forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the
lonely-hearted living, and often return to visit, guide and comfort them.
Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mist on the mountain side flees before the blazing sun.
However, your proposition seems a just one, 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 voice of Nature speaking to my people out of the thick darkness, that is fast gathering around them like a dense fog floating inward from a midnight sea.
It matters little
where we pass the remnant of our days. They are not many. The Indian's night promises to be dark. No bright star hovers beyond the horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some
grim Fate of our race is on the Red Man's trail, and wherever he goes he will still hear the sure approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and
prepare to stolidly 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 all the mighty hosts that once filled this broad land and that now roam in fragmentary bands through these vast solitudes or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to weep over the graves of the people once as powerful and as hopeful as your own!
But why should I repine? Why should I murmur at the fate of my people? Tribes are made up of individuals and are no better than they. Men come and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a tamanamus, a dirge and they are gone from our longing eyes forever. It is the order of Nature. Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers, after all. We will see.
We will ponder you
proposition, and when we decide we will tell you. But should we accept it, I here and now make this the first condition - that we will not be denied the privilege, without molestation, of
visiting at will the graves of our ancestors, friends and children. Every part of this
country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe. Even the rocks, which seem to lie
dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent sea shore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the lives of my people. The very dust
under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich
with the life of our kindred. The noble braves,
fond mothers, glad happy-hearted maidens, and even the little children, who lived and rejoiced here for a brief season, and whose very names are now forgotten, still love these sombre solitudes
and their deep fastnesses which, at eventide, grow shadowy with the presence of dusky spirits.
And when the last Red Man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among the white men shall have become a myth, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe; and when your children's children shall think themselves alone in the fields, 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 will be silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled 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 not powerless."