The Vision of Chief Seathl

by Leonard Lehrman © 1996
with the assistance of Marilyn Siegel Smith
based on the version transcribed by Dr. Henry Smith (1854)
published in the Seattle Sunday Star Oct. 29, 1887

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce made an offer for a large area of Indian land.
The following is the reply from Chief Sealth [aka Seathl] of the Duamish Tribe.
It has been described as the most beautiful statement on the environment ever made.

You say you want to buy this land.

There was a time when my people covered the land
as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor.
But that time has long since passed away with the greatness of nations almost forgotten.
With our braves revenge is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives.
But old men who stay at home in times of war,
and old women, who have sons to love, we know better.
No bright star hovers above the horizon.
Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance.
A few more moons, a few more winters
and not one of us will remain to weep over the tombs of a people once proud and powerful.
But why should I mourn the fate of my people?
Men come and go like the waves of the sea.
A tear, a prayer, a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever.
Even the white man cannot escape this common destiny.

You say you want to buy this land from us.

Every part of this land is sacred to my people.
Every hillside, every valley, every plain, every grove has been hallowed,
hallowed by some fond memory or sad experience.
The rocks that seem to lie dumb
as they swelter in the sun
along the silent shore
in silent grandeur
thrill with memories of past events,
events connected with the fate of my people.
The very dust beneath your feet responds lovingly to our footsteps,
because it is the ashes of our ancestors.
Our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch,
for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.

You say you want to buy this land from us now.

But how,
how can such things be bought and sold?
When the last red man has perished from the earth
and his memory among white men is but a myth,
these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my people.
When your children’s children think they are alone
in the field, in the store, in the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the woods,
they will not be alone.
The white man will never be alone.