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Totem Pole by James Bender at Pike Place Market (#72: 15046 bytes) 

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Noah Seattle

(Catholic baptismal name)

See-at-la

(Anglicized pronunciation in the Lushootseed dialect)
To the left is the most famous photo of Chief Seattle. A less-well-known photo of him shows him wearing a hat and standing in a group of Indian leaders at the signing of the Nisqually Treaty.

 

Click to see a statue of Chief Seattle in downtown Seattle.
Statue of Chief Seattle in downtown Seattle
Although we call him "Chief" Seattle, there were no hereditary chiefs among the Puget Sound Indians. Strong leaders arose in each village from time to time who, distinguishing themselves by the actions or particular skills, were respected and followed. For instance, there were fishing leaders, peacetime leaders, and leaders in times of crisis. Chief Seattle was one of those. In addition to his leadership skills and his ability to understand what the white settler's intentions were, he was also a noted orator in his native language. At the presentation of the treaty proposals in 1854, Chief Seattle delivered a magnificent speech, which is widely remembered today. It is the speech of a man who has seen his world turned upside down in his own lifetime: as a boy, he had seen Vancouver's ships, and when he died the treaty protests were still going on.... Chief Seattle passed away in 1866.... From his grave on the Kitsap Peninsula the modern city of Seattle is visible across Puget Sound. Knowing some of the settlers as well as he did, the fact that the small village bearing his name survived and flourished would not surprise him. That his people have survived the challenges of this century would please him.
-From The Eyes of Chief Seattle, published by the Suquamish Tribe.
Chief Seattle's father, Schweabe, was a Suquamish chief who lived on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from the present city of Seattle. But Chief Seattle was considered a member of the Duwamish tribe, who lived on a river in southwest Seattle, across Puget Sound from the Suquamish tribe. His mother, Scholitza, was the daughter of a Duwamish chief, and the line of descent among the Duwamish traditionally runs through the mother.
According to early Seattle historian Clarence Bagley, Chief Seattle as a young warrior was known for his courage, daring, and leadership in battle. He gained control of six local tribes and continued the friendly relations with local Europeans that his father began.
Chief Seattle gave his famous speech in December 1854 in downtown Seattle, when he was in his late fifties or early sixties. The only known version of this speech comes from the pen of Dr. Henry A. Smith, a settler and amateur writer who was present and took notes at the time, and who waited 30 years to transcribe his notes on the speech. Smith did not speak coastal Salish, the language of Chief Seattle, so no one knows whether someone present during the speech translated Chief Seattle's words into Chinook, a Northwest Coast trade language, which Smith did speak, but only haltingly. All we know is that "Chief Seattle's" speech, as Smith rendered it from his 30-year-old notes, contains common 19th-century English-language rhetorical flourishes that make it sound suspiciously like Smith made up at least part of it.
Besides his alleged speech, Chief Seattle has also had a huge influence in another way on worldwide impressions of American Indians. His daughter, called "Princess Angeline" by local European-Americans, lived out her old age in a waterfront shack in downtown Seattle. A young portrait photographer,  Edward S. Curtis, often saw Princess Angeline in downtown Seattle. He became intrigued by her and often photographed her and talked with her. Curtis's interest in Princess Angeline led to an interest in other American Indians, and Curtis went on to become the most famous photographer of them. He devoted most of his life to taking taking pictures of Indians all over America, with the financial backing of industrialist/art collector J. P. Morgan and the encouragement of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Chief Seattle as a young boy saw the first Englishmen who visited the Puget Sound region area, in 1792--Captain George Vancouver and his sailors--when they anchored their ships the Discovery and the Chatham near the southeast corner of Bainbridge Island, across from the present-day city of Seattle. Chief Seattle was always intrigued by Europeans and their culture, and he later became good friends with Doc Maynard, the progressive, hard-drinking entrepreneur who more than anyone helped establish the city of Seattle. In fact, Chief Seattle saved Doc Maynard from an assassination attempt by another Indian. Chief Seattle also helped protect the small band of European-American settlers in what is now Seattle from attacks by other Indians. Because of his friendship and help, at the urging of Doc Maynard, the settlers named their city after him.



Unless otherwise noted, all images and text are:
Chief Seattle Arts
Last modified: July 01, 2015