Wisdom of Chief Seattle

Word version of this resource: Creation Lesson – Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle’s Letter to All the People (A Celebration of Creation)

Chief Seattle, who died one hundred and fifty years ago, is the most well known of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. He was head of the Squamish tribe and his people called him ‘Sealth’ (pronounced See-athe). The Squamish were one of 42 recognised divisions of Salish people occupying the area around Puget Sound. As a young adult, Sealth made his mark among these people as an orator, warrior and diplomat. He worked hard to increase co-operation among the distinct tribes.

In 1851, the Denny-Boren party landed at Puget Sound with the intention of founding a town there and Sealth encouraged them to set the area up as a trading-post. The post failed and in 1855 Dr. David Maynard arrived in the area. He had left his wife of twenty years behind in Ohio and come west to make his fortune. He is said to have been a dreamer, who saw dollar-signs on the shores of Puget Sound. He acquired a large piece of property there and began to give it away to encourage growth. He opened a trading-post along the shores of the Duwamish River and one of his best customers was Sealth. They became such good friends that Maynard named this newly-established city after him; Seattle (this was as close a pronunciation as most white tongues would allow). But Sealth was not pleased with this, for he believed that after his death, he would turn in his grave every time the word ‘Seattle’ was said.

The 1850’s were a turning-point for the Salish peoples in and around Puget Sound. As more and more settlers moved in and aggressively displaced the natives, the tribes became very discontented. In 1853, Washington Territorial Governor, Isaac Stewart, began buying up or seizing Squalish lands and removing the tribes to out-lying reservations. Stewart was a man who believed that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”. In 1854, when Stewart was visiting Seattle, Sealth made a speech, lamenting that the day of the Indian had passed and that the future belonged to the white man. Here is a video version of his speech on that day…..

In 1855, Sealth spoke again briefly, at the formal signing of the Port of Madison Treaty, which settled the Squuamish on their reservation across Puget Sound from Seatttle. Three years later, by now old and impoverished, Sealth spoke one last time. He was devastated that the Congress of the United States had not signed the treaty and had left the Indians to languish in poverty. He died a short time later. In the 1970’s, his speech became known to people across the world and is now famous for its reverence for and celebration of our environment.


Outline the main concerns expressed here by Chief Seattle. Do you think many of these should still concern us today? Give reasons for you answer. If one of the letter’s concerns seems especially important to you, you may concentrate your answer on this.