6. Remembered Places, Remembered Voices
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CHAPTER 6 RememberedPlaces, RememberedVoices AT THIS POINT it may seem that the answers to Seattle's speech are overwhelming. It maybe a touching speech ofprotest. but the world it addressed was prepared to cut it down. or, worse. absorb it into the massive lore of continental America. Political leaders were thoroughlyprimed to ignore such speeches or set them aside as ineffectual curiosities. Attentive listeners such as Stevens or Gibbs were prepared to hear Indians one way as cultural informants and quite another as political representatives. Even Dr. Smith, who published the text we have. could hold it with a very strange grasp. heralding it one week as the relic of a magnificint orator. undercutting it the next as the rattle ofa "sable" old "Cicero ofthe Sound." But as we noted at the beginningofthis study, the speech as we have it presents a deep and abiding challenge to our loyalties and predilections. As readers, we run a risk of literate prejudice ourselves . Because there is a wealth ofsurviving written and printed material with which to document the life ofIsaac Stevens or Thomas Jefferson. we may simply assume that they were essentially larger or more comprehensive - in a word. wiser - than people like Seattle. who inhabited a world ofmyth. legend. and oratory. The speechdirectly attacks this easyassumption. This is the final turn ofthe screwofthe puzzle it presents. As readers and critics . we have to recognize that Indian oratory fits a well-worn literary pattern. It even fits a cultural stereotype. But that is not the 137 '--'A AMERICA'S REPLY tv--J onlypattern that adequately describes it. Taken on its own terms. this speech claims to speak for the land, speakbeyond a particular occasion, and speak for spirits that will endure. In very obvious ways. it continues to do all these things. Although it is not a single, unified, coherent record, it is still a powerful symbol. It may envelop some actual words of Seattle or other Indians. It continues to strike chords ofrecognition among some groups ofIndians. and of guilt among successors of white invaders.1 By having attained worldwide fame, however fortuitously, it still towers over the largely forgotten careers ofStevens and his contemporaries. Does Seattle thus persist in answering his answerers? To weigh this possibilitywe need to lookat two further backgrounds to this speech: persisting features ofgeography in and around the city of Seattle, and persisting records ofindigenous beliefs. The legend ofChiefSeattle still holds a particular meaning in the Puget Sound region. especially around the city of Seattle. For those who have spent any time there. what the speech says rings true to an obvious fact about that geography. Seattle has grown and grown. Houses have spread over its hills, tall buildings have gone straight up from the central core, and great derricks handle 1. Recent developments include a bestselling children's book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky (1991), based on a much-reviSed version of Perry's text; and "Circle of Faith --The Words ofChief Seattle~ (1992), a musical composition byJames VanDemark, based on Smith's text. The children's book has the subtitle A Message from ChiefSeattle, but. except for a small figure on the title page. its illustrations show Plains and Eastern Woodland Indians on horseback and in birchbark canoes. See Fruchter for a description of the VanDemark work. which has been performed around the country by the Muir Quartet and an American Indian drum group. ~ 6: REMEMBERED PLACES tv--> the cargoes of huge container ships in the port. But natural features around the city continue to dwarf these man-made impositions . The Cascade Range hovers in the distance to the east. Mount Rainier floats above the clouds morning and evening through all seasons of the year. The sun goes down behind the Olympic Mountains to the west - beyond Puget Sound and its islands . The city sits on steep hills around a bay. between salt water to the west and long Lake Washington to the east, with Lake Union and a ship canal in between. Almost anywhere in the city a person can walkjust around a comer or over a few blocks and see a large scene of trees. wate~ hills, and mountains. Thousands of people keep boats and use them year round in the mild climate, even when their neighbors put ski racks on the car and head into the mountains. Within an hour or two it is possible still to get far from urban life- into a forest, onto a broadstretch ofwater. out to the...


Subject Headings

  • Puget Sound Region (Wash.) -- History.
  • Suquamish Indians -- History.
  • Speeches, addresses, etc., Suquamish.
  • Seattle, -- Chief, 1790-1866 -- Oratory.
  • Human ecology.
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