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Chief Seattle quote

Posted by ESC on January 29, 2000

Pardon me while I rant. Every Earth Day (April 22) in the U.S., someone hauls out a quote taken by from a speech by Chief Seattle: "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."

I never liked that quote in the first place. It grates on my nerves. Two reasons: a) it's smarmy & simplistic and b) it perpetuates a racial stereotype. A good stereotype, but a stereotype nonetheless. Then a few years back I was doing some Internet research and came upon the assertion that this excerpt comes from a speech written by a scriptwriter. Thus began my annual campaign to stamp out the bogus Chief Seattle quote.

I still have hard copy printouts of the information but the web sites are no more. Summing up what was said, Chief Seattle (also spelled Seathl) did make a very eloquent speech in "the Suquamish dialect of central Puget Sound Salish (Lushootseed) and "one 'Dr.' Smith, an early Settler in Seattle (Washington state) took notes.and created this text in English." The text was published in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887.

The REAL Chief Seattle speech talks about the plight of the red man and the religions of the white and red people. It says in part: "The white man's God cannot love his red children or he would protect them. They seem to be orphans and can look nowhere for help. How then can we become brothers? How can your father become our father and bring us prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness?.And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone.The White Man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? -- There is no death, only a change of worlds."

Isn't that cool? But he doesn't say a thing about the environment. According to sources quoted on various Internet sites, the author of the "alternative" Chief Seattle speech was a screenwriter. ".his name is Ted Perry and he wrote the speech in the late 70s for movie called 'Home' which was produced in the U.S. by the Southern Baptist Convention. He had no idea that anyone would consider his work anything other than fiction, and he has spent quite a bit of time in the past few years trying to set the record straight."

The movie version of Chief Seattle's speech took on a life of its own. What's interesting to me is that I shared this information with some of my coworkers in an environmental agency, they collectively shrugged their shoulders and went right on using the bogus enviro-quote. END OF RANT.