"…never let Truth get in the way of a good story…"

I have been told that, a long time ago, a great and noble American Indian of the Suqwamish tribe gave an impassioned oratory before a rapt audience of native and settler alike.

`Twas the illustrious and eloquent Chief Sealth (pronounced “see-uh-thuh”) who stood before the onslaught of the oppressive patriarchal white European male “manifest destiny” and spoke words of mystic thunder:

“…every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.

The very dust you now stand on responds more willingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch…”

Ah me, what poetry! What sumptuous simile and magnanimous metaphor!

What a load of historical revisionism and outright falsehood!

As is all too often the case, the plain reality of the matter has little to do with anyone`s pet agendas but is inextricably bound to the framework of documented facts and historical context.

Not only did Chief Sealth not utter these words in 1854, but they are themselves contradictory with what is actually known about the man himself.

In the speech Sealth purportedly laments the “thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white men who shot them from a passing train” despite the simple fact that, having never ventured further out than the immediate vicinity around his Puget Sound homelands, Sealth likely never saw Bison in his life – to say nothing of the fact that railroads in the West were still years away.

According to the National Archives, the only recorded statement from Chief Sealth was a translation published by a Dr. Henry Smith more than thirty years later – which only records the Chief praising President Franklin Pierce for his generosity in buying the Suqwamish and Duwamish lands.

The text currently being purveyed as Chief Sealth`s words comes from a 1972 television program about ecology called Home. However spurious, this mythical homily lingers on via books, films, and other various forms of media. Again, never let Truth get in the way of a good story.

Chief Sealth was indeed a great warrior and diplomat. Under his leadership, the tribes of the Suquamish and Duwamish were united after generations of brutal warfare (a conflict that predated the arrival of Europeans to the continent); his astute mediation prevented many difficult circumstances amongst the natives and settlers of the region from escalating into war or bloodshed.

He was well-respected by all who knew him, for his gracious and principled character – so beloved by the settlers of the region that the burgeoning settlement was named after him… we know it today as the city of Seattle.

Oh, and about all that pantheistic quasi-transcendentalist mumbo-jumbo… Chief Sealth converted into the Christian faith in the early 1830s, taking the first name “Noah” upon his baptism.


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