There is apparently still a lot of controversy surrounding the Chief Seattle’s speech. Different scholars, historians and literary critics have made many researches on it and there is no one conclusion to the existence and authenticity of this Speech. It is not even clear if this was a written letter or an oratory speech. However, the majority of the critics seem to agree that it was delivered in Washington, in the month of March, in 1854 in front of a large gathering.
The Suquamish language, which is a part of the Native American Lushootseed dialect, was used for the deliverance of this speech. Although his words were translated into the Chinook Indian Trade language, no one alive today has any idea as to what was exactly spoken on that occasion. Hence, all this confusion, regarding the meaning of the actual speech which is till date shrouded in mystery. But from what we can take from the available resources, the Chief was a proud man who spoke proudly of his country and its people while attempting to maintain a cordial relationship with the more powerful White leaders.
According to the text, there was a time when Seattle’s tribe populated most of the land which is now under the control of the White Americans. The chief remembers those days of glory and feels only sadness at how once a great and plentiful tribe is now being driven away by infiltrators. It is all a mournful memory to him now and he believes that since his tribe is no longer in need of an extensive country the offer of the land treaty from Washington seems just and fair. He also believes that the young leaders are prone to rash actions based on true or untrue facts but the old and wise leaders like him must pay heed to logic and wisdom and conduct their actions accordingly.
Therefore, he considers the land treaty to be a practical decision but one that he cannot completely approve of due to his conscience. He hopes that with this decision, all the hostilities created by their forefathers between them be vanquished and only harmony remain. Chief Seattle then goes to great lengths to establish the ancestral power and glory of his tribe but even in the speech, we can see that his resolution falters because he realises that the present no more reflects the greatness of the past. In the end, he blames the partiality of the White God who could not protect and renew the strengths of the Native people for which they were now bound to bow before the Whites.
Chief Seattle’s Speech : Character Sketch
The personality of Chief Seattle has been given importance whenever the text has been reviewed, as if the two are intermingled and one cannot exist without the other. His spirit hovers within the lines of the text in his words of deep wisdom and the reader can almost hear the powerful orator speak. The tribal leader shares his sorrowful memories of past glory through hauntingly beautiful diction and imagery which in turn creates a lasting impression upon the readers. We can perceive his character to be that of a dutiful and proud leader who was both wise and valiant because he had the courage to stand up against the White Governor and speak his mind while also sacrificing his princely honour to plead on behalf of his people.
The character of Issac Evans, the White Governor appears very little in the text but it has an important symbolic presentation. The White Chief represents all of the white civilization that seems to be gradually encroaching upon the lands of the Native Americans. They are both the enemy and fellow human beings to the Natives and they resent their imperial presence but also acknowledge their power over them.
Chief Seattle’s Speech Theme
Traditionally, as far as the settler’s interpretation of history goes, the indigenous people of America were savage godless beasts. However, Chief Seattle’s speech opened up a new perspective for the world to see. This recorded piece of text is a proof of the Native American’s rich culture and history and also tells us of their share of the story. Therefore the oppression of the White Man over the Natives can be considered as a major theme of the speech.
The Environment also plays a central role in the text and the strikingly poignant manner in which Nature has been portrayed here appeals to the sentiment of the masses.
Chief Seattle’s Speech : Conclusion
Although the prose Chief Seattle’s Speech has great emotional value especially in difficult times such as now when the whole world is threatened by the evils of pollution and climatic change, many critics believe that the language of the text is too flowery to have had any real impact upon the White Imperial Government at that time. We can sympathise with the author but there is no substantial conclusion to the noble Chief’s appeal upon which Sic Issac, or the other leaders could have acted. There is a mixture of resentment and good will in this speech and the lines often get blurred between what seems fair and what seems unfair to the tribal leader.
At one hand, he says that Nature is being neglected by the White people and his tribe as a race was once far more superior to them but on the other hand, he also claims the big white Chief, referred to George Washington as – “our great and good father”. Considering all facts, we can safely come to the conclusion that Chief Seattle was a skilled diplomat who did what was best for his people under those circumstances. The speech has taken on different dimensions with different versions being published over the years, but the apt emphasis on saving the environment has remained constant in all the versions.