Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary by Chief Seattle
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary About the Author
Chief Seattle (1780 – 7 June, 1866), a famous 19th century American Indian Chief of Duwamish and Suquamish tribe. He was a prominent leader of his time, much respected for his Native American wisdom and commitment towards maintaining the ecological balance of the ancestral lands that fell under his tribes’ ownership. He was a brave and courageous warrior chief. Seattle’s speech gave him wide popularity. The speech favoured ecological responsibility of Native Americans. However, the actual content of the speech is uncertain and much has been lost through translation and rewriting.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary
Chief Seattle was an important figure in the early American History. He was the chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes/fighting for the rights of his native people in the face of American Colonists. This famous speech was given by him when the American Colonists aggressively offered to buy the native land of his tribe and in return offered them the right to live there. His speech has been described as one of the most beautiful and moralistic words on the environment’s value.
In his speech, he stresses upon the importance of Nature and the need to respect it. He makes use of satire while describing the offer from the Great Chief of Washington. He says, that it is the benevolence of the Great Chief to offer their friendship, as the Americans are much powerful than the Red Indians who were once great, but now reduced to a handful. He reminds that the wars are destructive and they harm both, humans and nature. So they should be avoided. He also mentions that the God of the Whites is partial and He only protects them and not the Red Indians. He also points out at the difference of origin of both the races.
Seattle very emotionally emphasizes on the holiness of the ashes of their ancestors, thus their land is very precious to them. Therefore, accepting the proposal of acquisition of land from the Governor of Washington, he makes a request to grant them permission to visit the land which contains the ashes of their forefathers. Concluding his speech he says that, the Red Indians have such a strong attachment with their land that even after the death of the Red Indians, their spirits will never leave the land and thus, makes an appeal to the Whites to treat their land sympathetically as the dead people have the power to change the world.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary Word Meanings:
1. Yonder : Over there
2. Compassion : Sympathy
3. Prairies : Large grasslands of North America
4. Ruffled : Disturbed
5. Reproach : Disgrace
6. Relentless : Strict
7. Bristling : Brimming
8. Forsaken : Given up or left (someone or something) entirely
9. Prosperity : Success
10. Teeming multitude : A great number of people
11. Verdant : Green with growing plants
12. Sequestered : Withdrawn; secluded
13. Remnant : The left over part
14. Stolidly : Unemotionally
15. Proposition : Proposal
16. Swelter : To be very hot and uncomfortable
17. Sombre : Dull or dark
18. Solitude : Lonely places
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary Questions and Answers
How does Chief Seattle compare the religion of the White man and the Red man in his speech?
Chief Seattle in his speech says that the God of the White people is different from that of the Red man, because the White man’s God only thinks of the welfare of his people and ignores the Red men. In that case, their God cannot be a reality as God never differentiates between people and stands equal for all. He also mentions that the religion of the White man was ‘written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of God, so that they many remember it. It is not felt by heart. Whereas, the Red man’s religion is ‘the traditions of our ancestors – they are dreams of their old men, given to them in solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit. Thus, the religion of the White man is artificial and mechanical which consists of some hard and fast rules that the native people cannot understand well.
‘The world views of White men and the Red Indians has marked differences’. Throw a light on this statement based on the speech by Chief Seattle.
As a response to an offer made by the President of United States to buy their land, Chief Seattle, a Native American leader, delivers this inspiring speech. It remains the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment and related issues. Chief Seattle in his speech feels and argues that, it is impossible to buy or sell natural resources like, air, water and land, because we do not own them. They are a gift. He says that every part of the earth is sacred to him and his people; they are a part of the earth and the earth is a part of them.
Even the souls of the Native Americans do not leave their land. Instead, they make it their permanent residence. In short, the earth is not an inanimate tract of land, but a living presence to be treated with love, care, respect and fear. But the worldview of White men is entirely different. For them it is an object to be tamed, conquered and exploited to the full, until it ceases to be useful.
Though the President has promised to take care of them like their father, and provide them a special area to live and continue with all their customs and rituals, but it would not be easy to sell their dear and sacred land. The leader of the Red Indians, Chief Seattle, knew very well that they were handful so could not oppose the takeover, hence, he suggests some condition, for the transaction. He says that their land is sacred and inviolable and so they should also teach their children the same. He wants the White men to treat rivers and beasts as their own brothers because they had seen White men pollute rivers and shoot animals for the same of fun. He believes that every object in the Nature is connected with each other. Whatever happens to animals and land will happen to us sooner or later. None can escape this fate.
For his people, simple pleasure of Nature are more precious and more important than anything else. They treat rain, wind and land as living organisms, just like humans. He also expounds the holistic vision of his people according to which, there is only one God and he does not discriminate between people, White or Red, human beings hold equal position in his eyes. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on the creator.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Summary Extract Based Questions
Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.
“Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change.”
(i) Who speaks these lines? Provide a context.
(ii) What does he mean when he says, “Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds.?”
(iii) What terms does Chief Seattle use to refer to the White chief? Why?
(iv) How does Chief Seattle in his speech describe the population of the White people and his?
(v) Why does Chief Seattle refer the ‘Red Indians’ as orphans?
(i) The above lines form a part of the speech delivered by Chief Seattle, a leader of the Suquamish tribe of the Red Indians, who lived in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1854, the United States Government aggressively offered to buy 2 million acres of land occupied by native people in the Northwest. This speech is a translation of excerpts from Chief Seattle’s reply to the Governor of Washington, in December of that year. His speech has been described as one of the most beautiful and prophetic statements on the environment ever made.
(ii) Chief Seattle in his speech says that, though things seemed to be favourable for them presently but future . may bring quite drastic changes as the Great Chief of Washington was planning to acquire their lands behind
a mask of friendship.
(iii) Chief Seattle ironically calls the White chief ‘kind’ as in spite of being so powerful he had sent the Red Indians greetings of friendship and goodwill, though they were quite scarce in number as compared to the White people.He calls him ‘good’, ‘great’ and ‘generous’ as he had offered to buy their land and in exchange allowed them just enough to live comfortably, which he says is quite wise as they did not need such a vast land to live on.
(iv) Chief Seattle says that, earlier his people were large in number and they covered the land as the waves of disturbed sea covering its shell-paved floor. But now they were just a handful, resembling the scattering trees on a plain swept by a,storm whereas, the people of the White chief were numerous, like the dense grass covering the vast prairies.
(v) Chief Seattle mentions that the God of the White cannot be their God because their God is partial towards them. He lovingly protects the White men as a father protects his son, but he has forsaken Seattle and his people. On the other hand, ‘The Great Spirit’ which is the God of the natives, has also forgotten his people because his tribe is almost on the verge of extinction. Thus, ‘they seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help.’
Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.
“But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain.”
(i) What advice does the chief give to the youth?
(ii) Who is referred as ‘Our Father in Washington’? What protection has he offered to the natives?
(iii) How does Chief Seattle differentiate between the religion of the White men and the natives? How are the dead of the natives more loving than those of the White?
(iv) Inspite of all the differences, why does Chief Seattle say “we may be brothers after all?”
(v) What condition of surrender does the chief propose? Why does he say that White men will never be alone?
(i) He says that the young people are impulsive and their anger towards real and imaginary wrongs makes them brutal and uncontrolled. He advices the youth to control their feeling of hostility in any circumstance because its their family that is left to suffer after their glorious sacrifice in the war. Thus, he discourages the youth from any war feeling.
(ii) Seattle refers to ‘George Washington’ as ‘our father’, as he would be soon taking control over them and their land. He has promised to protect the Native Americans from their foreign enemy tribes like ‘Haidas’ and ‘Tsimshians’, if they surrender or sell their land to the White colonists.
(iii) Chief Seattle in his speech says that the religion of the White men i.e., Christianity, was written by their God with an ‘Iron Finger’ which bound them with strict adherence to rules and principles. But the religion of the Red Indians has been passed on by their ancestors in the form of traditions and dreams given to them in sacred hours of night by the Great Spirit and their religion is the vision of their great leaders which has been inscribed on their hearts.
He also says that the dead of the White men cease to love their people and their land and wander away beyond the stars. Whereas, the dead of the Red Indians have a strong affinity towards their land, they never forget their beautiful world with lush green valleys, flowing rivers, majestic mountains and often wander affectionately around their sad and lonely people to provide them comfort and guidance.
(iv) The Chief realizes that soon their mighty tribe will face extinction, but there is no reason to mourn over it as this is the law of nature. He is relaxed at the thought that the White men, though much more powerful than them, will face the same ‘Common Destiny’. They too will decay sooner or later and their God will also not be able to protect them. Thus, the ‘Common Destiny’ will bind them as brothers and this will develop empathy in them.
(v) The condition of surrender that he presents to the White men is that, the Red Indians should be allowed to visit the graves of their dead without any prohibition. He also requests them to treat their land sympathetically because according to him, the dead were not powerless and the people who die merely change the world. The Chief says that the White men will never be alone because even if the Natives vanish, their spirits will always occupy their native land.