Chief Seattle’s speech is a speech to the Governor of the state of Washington. In the speech he argued in favour of ecological responsibility and respect of land rights of Native Americans.
Important Question and Answers
Q. What does the opening paragraph of ‘Chief Seattle’s Speech’ imply? OR What do you understand by,” Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold”.
Ans. The opening paragraph is the letter written by Chief Seattle as a reply to the President of Washington. Here he is referring to the offer made by Big Chief at Washington for buying their land. According to him, the time was fair then but in future problems might arise and whatever appeared changeless and eternal might change but his words were like stars which would never change. The great Chief at Washington could rely upon him as he could upon the return of the sun or the seasons. The Big Chief at Washington sent them greetings and goodwill. Chief appreciated this as he had no requirement for their friendship in return.
Q. Explain with the metaphor that how did Chief Seattle compare his people with that of Whites?
Ans. Chief Seattle said that the Americans were large in number. He compared them to the grass that covered the vast Prairies; the grasslands of America, whereas the Red Indians were few. They resembled the scattering of trees of a storm-swept plain. Using these metaphors, Chief Seattle was successfully able to describe the less number of his people as compared to that of Whites.
Q. Which offer was Chief Seattle talking about here? Was it generous to him? Why?
Ans. Chief Seattle was talking about the offer made by George Washington to buy their Native land. He said that American Chief wished to buy their land but was willing to allow them to live comfortably. It appeared generous to him as the Red Indians no longer had the rights to be respected. And the offer might be wise as they were no longer in need of an extensive country.
Q. How did Chief Seattle describe that once upon a time his people were numerous? OR According to Seattle, why were the Natives no longer in need of the vast land?
Ans. Chief Seattle recollected the time when his people were large in number. They covered the land in the same way as the wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor. But that was long ago and the greatness of tribes had become a mournful memory and the Chief did not want to mourn over the untimely decay of his tribes as they were also responsible for it. As the number of Red Indians had reduced, they no longer need the extensive country.
Q. While talking about the buying of land, why did Chief Seattle become sentimental?
Ans. First of all the idea of buying or selling the land was an unusual thing for Chief Seattle. It is a natural resource and the whole life depends upon it. It did not belong to a particular tribe or race; it was a sacred thing for his men. Moreover Earth does not belong to man; but man belongs to Earth. Chief Seattle said that once the Red Indians covered the land and it carried the memories and culture of his tribe. With the passage of time, the greatness of tribes had become a mournful memory which Chief Seattle did not want to mourn over. He did not even express his disapproval of the Americans.
Q. Why did Chief Seattle blame his own man for losing their ancestral land?
Ans. Chief Seattle had been very much fair in presenting his views for the whites or his own men. He did not exclude his tribe from being responsible for the loss of their ancestral land. The youth as he said was impulsive. They indulged in revengeful acts and war had resulted in loss of their lives. They were responsible for the untimely decay of their people.
Q. What did the youth do when they became angry? OR How did the youth react when they grow angry?
Ans. Chief Seattle described his men cruel and relentless when they became angry. They disfigured the faces of the wrong doers with black paints. They became uncontrollable by the feeble old men and women. And it happened when the white men pushed their forefathers westward. But now he expected that the hostilities between them should never be returned as he did not want to lose anything.
Q. According to Chief Seattle, on what conditions the father in Washington would be his tribe’s father too?
Ans. As the discussion of buying land was going on, Chief Seattle presumed that there would be a common father for both the Americans as well as Red Indians. King George had advanced towards North and moved his boundaries and sent them the word that the Red Indians would be protected only if they went according to him and if he protected the Red Indians then only he would be their father in real sense.
Q. How would Washington’s men protect his race?
Ans. The valiant warriors of George Washington would act as a bristling wall of strength and their harbours would be filled with their wonderful ships of wars so that their ancient enemies like the Haidas and Tsimshians far to the Northward would stop frightening their women, children and old men. Then only he would be Red Indian’s father and they, his children.
Q. How did Chief Seattle prove that White’s God was different from theirs?
Ans. Seattle felt that the God of different races was also different. White’s God loved His people only and hated Seattle’s tribe. He folded His strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and led them by the hand as a father led an infant son. Their God made his people wax stronger every day. But he had forsaken His Red children.
Q. On what basis Chief Seattle denies that the Whites and Red Indians were brothers? OR Why the Natives are called orphans?
Ans. Seattle remarks that his people were reducing in number rapidly like the receding tide that will never return. The White Man’s God was indifferent towards the Red Indians. He had no sympathy for His Red children. He did not protect them from enemies. They were like orphans in the vast world. So how could they be brothers when one race got so much of support and benefits and the other was forsaken.
Q. If both the races had a common God, what type of God it would be?
Ans. If both the races had a common God, He would have been impartial. He would love and shower blessings over the people of both the tribe. He would not favour only a particular race or tribe and would give strength and punishments to the deserved one regardless of his race, on being judged by his deeds.
Q. Why did Seattle say that they were two different races? OR Why there was little in common between the two races?
Ans. The two races were different in their skin colour, culture, traditions, religion and beliefs. The White settlers were called as ‘White Man’, ‘paleface’ whereas the Natives were known as ‘Red Man’ or ‘Red children’. That was why Seattle said that they were two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There was little in common between them.
Q. How did the Red Man regard the ashes of their ancestors? OR What was the religion of the Red Man? OR What was the value of the ancestors in the Red Man’s hearts?
Ans. Even the ashes of the Red Man’s ancestors were precious and valuable to them. It was sacred for them and the resting place was hallowed ground. Their religion was the tradition of their ancestors. It carried the dreams of their old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit and was written in the hearts of his people.
Q. How as the religion of the White men different from the Red men?
Ans. The religion of the White men was different from that of the Red men in the sense that they did not have much attachment to their ancestors. Where the ashes of the Red Men’s ancestors were sacred to them, the Whites wandered away from the graves of their ancestors. They did not have any regret too. Their religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron fingers of their God but the religion of Red Men was the tradition of their ancestors.
Q. Why did the dead of the White Men cease to love them?
Ans. The culture and traditions of the Whites were entirely different from those of the Red Men. They were materialistic and wanted to buy the native land of the Red Man. The religion to them was mere set of rules. They did not have sentiments for their motherland. Once they were dead, they stop loving their fellow men. They wander away beyond the stars. They were soon forgotten and would never return.
Q. How the ancestors of Red Indians were attached to their land? OR How do the dead of ‘Red Man’ keep loving the beautiful world?
Ans. As per their beliefs, although the ancestors of the Red Indians had left their bodies still their souls dwelled on the land. They permanently reside in the land and could never forget that land because it was not just a piece of land but everything for them. For them the simple pleasures of earth were more precious and important than anything else. They still loved its valleys, murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays. They still guided, consoled and comforted their people on Earth.
Q. Why would Red Indians likely to accept the propositions made by the White Chief?
Ans. The propositions made by the whites seemed to be fair to Chief Seattle and therefore he thought of accepting them. He said that day and night could not dwell together. By this he referred to the Red Indians and whites. The Red Men could not stand before the Americans and flee as the morning mist flees before the rising sun. So the propositions would be agreeable to them and would follow whatever had been told to them. The White Chief’s words were the words of nature spoken to his people from darkness.
Q. Why did Seattle say, “Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail”? OR Why was the Chief sad about the fate of his tribe?
Ans. Chief Seattle was a spiritual man who believed in the sacredness of the land in which the spirits of his ancestors dwelled. It was a resting place of the dead of his tribe. But now that was to be bought by the Americans. The nights were going to be dark for them i.e., they won’t find solitude now. The Whites’ attitude was such empowering that they did not let a single star of hope to hover above Red Man’s horizon. He could hear the voice of sad winds moaning in the distance. He exclaims that, “Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail”. Moreover they are compared to the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.
Q. Chief Seattle believed in the vicious circle of change. Explain it. OR Why did Seattle say that he should not mourn over the ‘untimely fate of his people’?
Ans. Chief Seattle tried to figure out the future of his men at the very thought of selling his land to the White Chief. He could hear the sad voices of the moaning winds from far. The Red Indian would soon meet their doom. Only few days were left before their land would be overtaken by others. The once mighty dwellers of the land would be lost in oblivion and would mourn over the graves of the deceased. But then he said to himself that it was not right to lament over the untimely fate of his people. Tribes and nature follow each other like the waves of the sea. It was the order of the nature and regret was useless. He believed that as their time was over, one day the Whites would also perish as the nature takes turn.
Q. On what conditions did the speaker agree to accept the proposition put forth by the White Chief?
Ans. There was no other option left for the Natives except to accept the proposal made by the White Chief. Seattle remarked that he would ponder over the proposition and let them know. But he was little apprehensive so further added that he would accept only if his tribe was not denied the privilege without molestation of visiting any time the tombs of their ancestors, friends and children.
Q. How was the every part of the soil sacred Seattle’s men?
Ans. Every part of the soil of the Natives’ land was sacred in the estimation of Seattle’s tribe. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the dumb and dead rocks which swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events related to the lives of the tribal people.
Q. Why did the dust upon which the White Settlers stood, respond lovingly to the footsteps of the tribal people?
Ans. The ancestors of the Red Man were deeply connected with their land. After their death, they still wandered around and loved the mountains, valleys, lakes, bays and all and often visited from the happy hunting ground to guide, console and comfort their people. Every hill, valley, rocks and plains that seemed to be lifeless, contained the happy and sad stories of the dead. The sand responds more lovingly to their footsteps as it was rich with the blood of their ancestors and their bare feet were conscious of the sympathetic touch.
Q. Why would the children’s children of White Man never be alone?
Ans. The Children’s children of White Man would never be left alone because the souls of the departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens and even the little children of the tribal people would love those somber solitudes and greet shadowy returning spirits. When all the Red Men would have perished and became a myth, the shores would swarm with the invisible dead and the White people’s children would never feel alone.
Q. What did Seattle mean by, “There is no death, only a change of worlds”?
Ans. Chief Seattle was a philosophical man who believed that death was an inevitable truth and one should not regret. In fact it is only the change of world. Tribes follow tribes and nations follow nations. He talked about his dead and the land that they still visited the land and would forever so the Whites should treat them kindly as the dead were not powerless according to him. He stated that there was no death, only man changed his world.
Q. Write a note on the signification of Chief Seattle’s speech.
Ans. Seattle’s speech is acclaimed as a powerful appeal for the recognition of the rights of native Americans and also environmental values. Seattle criticized the white people’s imperialistic attitude in demanding the land of the tribe, as though their sentiments did not matter. Apart from that, it also is a statement against reckless developments that are clearly affecting the natural environment. In fact, this speech is one of the earliest pleas that expressed great concern over the degradation of nature and ecological balance. The speech is a clear warning against the rapid progress of western civilization and the need to protect nature. And, this is why Chief Seattle’s speech is regarded with such high esteem.
Q. Comment on the tone and language of the speech.
Ans. The tone of Seattle’s speech is polite yet sarcastic, passionate yet sorrowful, complying yet dignified. It is a speech that reveals the inner core of the man, his anguish, his helplessness and the final acceptance of the truth that for the survival of the remaining tribe, he has to give in to the demands of the Whites, and persuade them to give up the land of their ancestors.
Chief Seattle uses two different tones – a passionate and a sorrowful tone along with powerful words and imagery. He wants to win the audience’s heart and hopes that the people will take care of the land like he did. The speech comes alive with figurative language, imagery, especially color imagery and death imagery. The speech becomes poignant with metaphors and similes, sarcasm, comparisons and contrasts, personification, alliteration, rhetorical questions and tone shifts.
Q. What are the purposes of this speech.
Ans. Chief Seattle’s chief purpose is to persuade Gov. Stevens to not to cheat them off their land. He wants to convince Gov. Stevens that he and his people are educated, wise, and aware of the exploitation. Another objective is to elicit sympathy and to connect with Stevens through shared experiences of having the same government as well as both being leaders. He further wants to educate the governor about Seattle’s culture, traditions and belief system .He does this by contrasting the two in terms of their numbers, beliefs, attitudes towards God and Nature, life after death, and concept of land ownership. His intention is also to establish himself as the leader and a force to be reckoned with. He mocks the White man subtly, using sarcasm to warn the governor and the Whites about excessive pride and arrogance.
Q. In what circumstances was the famous speech of Chief Seattle given? What proposal was put forward to the Red Man by the Great Chief? What would be the impact of the proposal on the Red man and in what light would the world see the White man?
Ans. In 1854, the United States Government offered to buy two million acres of land occupied by the native people. Chief Seattle gave a powerful and eloquent speech as a reply to President Franklin Pierce. His speech is described as one of the most inspiring ones ever argued in favour of environment and human rights.
The proposal was that the natives should surrender their land to the Whites. In return of this, the Whites would protect them from foreign attack of the Haidas and Tsimshians. The Whites were willing to allow them enough land to live comfortably.
The impact of the proposal meant the Native Americans should leave their revered land where their ancestors were resting in eternal peace. They would lose their land which was full of memories, rife with stirring events connected with their lives. The land that they had been asked to sell was sacred for them.
The Whites were unjustly exercising authority over the Native Americans. Having a powerful army and navy, they were expecting the Red Indians to bow down to their super strength. In their arrogance, the Whites offered to allow them enough land to live comfortably. The world would see it as symbolic of master-slave relationship; sheer exploitation by imperial powers.
Q. How does Seattle compare Christianity and the religion of Great Spirit?
Ans. The White men follow Christianity written by the iron finger of their God, symbolising strict adherence to rules and principles. The God of this religion is partial and has forsaken his Red children. Seattle says that this God loves only his ‘paleface’ children and makes them stronger every day. So soon they will fill all the land. He does not love Red children thus they seem to be ebbing away.
Seattle says that for a Red Man, the ashes of his ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. They love to stay in the land where their ancestors’ memories are alive, whereas the Whites wander far from their ancestors’ graves. The Whites once they are dead, forget their native land and never return.
The religion of the Red Man is the traditions of their ancestors-the dreams of their old men, given to them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of their sachems, are written in the hearts of their people.
Q. What is the gist and overall message of the speech? How is the order of nature referred to by the Chief? How does he hint that justice will be done at the end?
Ans. One cannot fail to notice the overall irony reflected throughout the speech of Chief of Seattle. The speaker thanks the friendship and good will shown by the White Chief and appreciates it saying, ‘It’s kind of him.’ However, in every single word, the Chief makes it clear that it is the power of money and military strength that makes rich nations subdue the less powerful, and in the garb of friendship, they cheat the real holders of their land.
Chief Seattle is upset but at the same time, is aware that he and his men are cornered and will have to consider the proposal. But before that, he gives a few warnings and suggestions which are to be heeded by all. God, land, water and plants are close-knit family and require more respect and reverence than White men are giving. There is an order in Nature and if that balance is upset, everything will be lost. Tribe follows tribe; nation follows nation. No one is above the other. By sheer strength of the army, some may be able to conquer the others; but not for long. In the zeal to build and possess, they may lose all they have. There will come a time when they will realise that the ultimate destiny of man is the same. Some may prolong their existence; some may perish early, like the Red Indian minority. When the powerful nations accept this truth, they will realise that all are brothers and have equal rights.
The Chief also makes it clear, that the tribe should be able to visit the tombs of their near and dear ones whenever they want and no restrictions should be imposed. Also he promises that their dead would throng the shops and streets, highways and country sides along with the living Whites; the memories of the vanished tribe will haunt their present, giving them company, and solace in solitude.
Whether the speech lost its authenticity in translation or not, what matters is that Seattle’s words inspired and will continue to do so, drilling in a most compelling truth about man’s relation with man and his environment.