Chief Seattle's Unanswered Challenge
This speech was given in January of 1855 by Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe. It was addressed to Issac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, in response to the Indians being forced to sign treaties and move to reservations.
Yonder sky has wept tears of compassion on my people for centuries untold. To us it appears changeless and eternal. Yet it may change. Today it is fair. Tomorrow may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever I say the great chief at Washington can rely on as certainly as he can upon the return of the seasons.
This white tyee – says: 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 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 comfortably. This indeed appears just, even generous. For the red man no longer has rights that the White Chief need respect. His offer may be wise, too, as we no longer need extensive country.
Once our people covered the land as waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-shaved floor. That time has 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. We, too, may have been to blame. 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 Farther, 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. His wonderful ships of war will fill our harbors. Then our ancient enemies far to the northward – the Haida and Tsimshian – will cease to frighten our women, children, and old men. Then in reality will he be our father – and we his children.
But can that ever be? No! Your God is not your God. God loves your people and hates mine. He folds his protecting arms about the paleface and leads him by the hand as father leads
infant son. But he has forgotten his red children—if they are really his. Our God – the Great Spirit – seems to have forsaken us!
Your God makes your people wax strong 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? How can he awaken in us dreams of greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father, He must be partial – for he came to his paleface children. We Indians never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for us – His red children. Our teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent – as stars fill the firmament.
No! We are two different races. We have separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us! To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred. Their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret.
Your religions are written on tables of stone by the iron finger of your God so you could not forget. The red man could never comprehend nor remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors – the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit. And the vision of our sachems is written in our hearts. Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales, and tree- rimmed lakes. They never yearn, in tender affection over the lonely-hearted living. Often they return from the Happy Haunting Ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort.
Day and night cannot dwell together.
The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as morning mist flees the rising sun. 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 is on the red man’s trail. Wherever he goes he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer. He will prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe at the footsteps of the approaching 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 will be left. Once my people lived in happy homes and felt protected by the Great Spirit. Soon none will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours.
But why should I mourn 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. Even the white man whose God walked and talked with him – as friend to friend cannot escape the common destiny. We may be brothers, after all. We shall see!
We will ponder your propositions. When we decided we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition: That you permit us, at any time, to visit -- without molestation – 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 happy or sad event in days long vanished. Even rocks – which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore – thrill with memories and sympathize with my people. The very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than to yours. It is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are more conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy-hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, love these somber solitudes. An eventide they will shadowy, returning spirits.
And when the last red man shall have perished – and the memory of my tribe is but a myth among white men – these shores will swam with the invisible dead of my tribe, 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 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 the white man be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless! Dead, did I say?
There is no death – only a change of worlds!