Chief Seattle, more properly spelled Seathl or Sealth, was born near present-day Seattle, Washington about 1786. He was chief of the Suquamish, Duwanish, and allied
Salish-speaking Indian tribes.
Seattle was a daring warrior in his youth, who was later convinced that peace is preferable to war. Influenced by missionaries, it is said that Seattle converted to Christianity and took the name of Noah.
When white settlers came to the Northwest after the California Gold Rush, the Indians gave them a warm welcome and offered the settlers friendship and assistance. In 1852, the whites named their small Puget Sound settlement Seattle, after the chief.
In 1854, Governor Isaac Stevens, the new appointee for the Commissioner Of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory, began the long-awaited process of making treaties with the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The purpose of these negotiations was clear ... the Indians were to sign away their lands to the settlers in return for small reservations and promises of government aid.
Dr. David Maynard, sub-Indian agent and a friend of Chief Seattle, arranged for Governor Stevens to meet with Seattle and his people. The Indians congregated on the beach just north of the present Kingdome.
At this meeting, in the spring of 1855, it is said that with a commanding presence and eyes that mirrored the great soul that lived within, the Chief rose to speak to the gathering in a resounding voice. He delivered, in his native tongue, what is considered to be one of the most beautiful and profound environmental statements ever made.
The chief was determined not to let his people's blood be shed over something he felt was inevitable ... the white man's victory over the red man in America. Chief Seattle was the first to sign the Point Elliott Treaty in the Spring of 1855. This marked his official acceptance of life on a reservation for his people, specifically the Port Madison reservation.
For the next 15 years, warfare took place between other Indian tribes and the U.S. Army as Indians resisted being moved onto reservations. Sadly, in the span of a single lifetime, white man claimed all the Indians' land for themselves, allowing them only small tracts of land to live on.
Chief Seattle is also known for his eloquence in describing the relations between whites and Indians in America. Seattle said the two groups were not friends and that the ways of whites were not the ways of the Indians. Specifically, Seattle cited the spiritual emphasis of Native American life, contrasted with the lack of spirituality in white America.
As Seattle spoke at the meeting with Governor Stevens, Dr. Henry Smith, for whom Smith Cove is named, took notes of the Chief's words. Those notes has been interpreted and rewritten several times. Dr. Smith reconstructed the Chief's words some 33 years later, publishing them in the October 29, 1887 edition of the "Seattle Sunday Star." Joseph Campbell adapted and brought Chief Seattle's message to a wider audience with his appearances on Bill Moyers' PBS series and in the book "The Power of Myth."
Chief Seattle died in the Port Madison reservation in 1866.