Chief Seattle Essay

Chief Seattle, in his masterfully worded speech to Governor Isaac I. Stevens, attempts to convince Stevens’s people to treat his people kindly and fairly. At the same time, Seattle warns Stevens about the many negative aspects of his tribe. Through the use of juxtaposition, an uncompromising tone towards his surrounding world, and personification of specific objects, Seattle clearly conveys his point to the Governor. Juxtaposition is used to point out many differences between Seattle’s tribe and the Americans.

Take, for instance, Chief Seattle stating that the American’s “people are many” and that “They are like the grass that covers vast prairies”. In contrast, he also describes his tribe as “few” and like the “scattering trees of a storm-swept plain”. The Chief’s intended purpose here is to humble himself in front of Governor Stevens, who was obviously looking for a suitable chief to converse with about buying the land and peopling it. Thus, Seattle presents himself as a very modest, approachable chief. Stevens, spurred on by the Chief’s attitude, would then be kind towards Seattle’s tribe .

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Seattle also very harshly compares his God and the American God. In his bold statement to the Governor, Seattle proclaims that the American God “loves your people and hates us”, while his own God “seems…to have forsaken” Seattle’s people. Seattle then sums up this comparison between their two different Gods by asserting that his people and the Americans are “two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies”. Seattle uses this simple, yet brash, comparison to suddenly discourage the Americans from touching his land.

At the same time though, Seattle is not pushing away the Americans because they’re a “lesser” people than his tribe – he is pushing them away because his tribe is inadequate or unworthy of the Americans. Taking into consideration the love that Seattle supposedly says the two Gods of his tribe and America show their respective people, Seattle is actually trying to protect the Americans from their faulty God and encourage them to live happy lives with their affectionate God. This potential warning shows the potentially negative implications that joining Seattle’s tribe and God might bring.

Chief Seattle compares the “dead” of his tribe with that of the neighboring Americans. Seattle then accuses the American’s dead by saying that they “cease to love” them while praising his own dead by stating that they “never forget the beautiful world that gave them being”. Seattle deliberately places these statements directly after his comparison of his tribe and the Americans because he wants to press the stark differences between them into Governor Stevens’s head so that Stevens himself will reconsider peopling the Chief’s land.

After all, why should the Americans join Seattle’s tribe in his land if they have more differences than similarities? Chief Seattle offers a different perspective on his tribe’s relationship with the Americans than before. He does not want the Americans to join his tribe not because an aspect of his people is inferior to the same aspect of the Americans, like the comparison between their respective Gods, but because an aspect of his people is superior to the same aspect of the Americans. Thus, the Americans should treat Seattle’s tribe with all due respect, and more importantly, kindness and fairness.

Chief Seattle’s uncompromising tone towards the world around him shows his unchanging and absolute stance on the matters involved in the tribe-American relationship. He specifically uses the words “will” to express his thoughts. Seattle reminisces of a time when his “people covered the land” but have “since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory”. With seemingly no regrets whatsoever, Seattle boldly states that he “will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay”.

Seattle says this statement with a clear heaviness on his shoulder, as articulates that he and his brother “may have been somewhat to blame”. Seattle’s conviction not only affects him deeply, but also Governor Stevens; he now knows the tragic story behind Chief Seattle’s people and is forced to sympathize with Seattle and his tribe if and when he’ll deal with Seattle’s land, therefore being forced to treat Seattle’s tribe with fairness and kindness as well. Seattle’s view on his world shifts to youth and the nature of his young tribesmen.

When Seattle bluntly states that “Youth is impulsive”, and characterizes them with “black hearts”, he shows just how much Seattle’s tribe has declined, which is basically another said warning to the Americans. Chief Seattle then shows his cynical side when he asserts that “The White Man will never be alone” and that when their “children’s children think themselves alone, they will not be alone”. The repeated use of “will” convey his absolute stance on the state of his tribe and the Americans. Seattle’s promise that the white man will never be alone is ominous, and this really warns Steven about the potential dangers of Seattle’s tribe.

Seattle also implies his people will have company for a long time if their “children’s children” will have a “swarm [of] invisible dead around them” – certainly a frightening and distressing thought. If Seattle could relay his message to Governor Stevens with one strategy, it would be his undeniable use of personification. Seattle begins his speech by saying that the “sky has wept tears or compassion upon my people for centuries”. Seattle saw to it that he start off his speech with a touch of sympathy for his tribe, which has obviously suffered enough to make the sky cry for them.

Therefore, Governor Stevens would immediately feel sympathy for Seattle and his tribe and treat them kindly as a result. The sympathetic tone with which Seattle carries the first sentence also carries on for the remainder of the speech, thus always reminding Governor Stevens to approach them with kindness and fairness. Steven also uses personification to characterize the dead, whether they were from America or his tribe. Seattle states that his tribe’s dead “often return to visit, guide, console, and comfort the lonely hearted living”.

Seattle suggests that his tribe’s dead are not powerless, and that the Americans can’t just treat them unjustly – the dead are the same as the people, and thus need to be treated with kindness and fairness. Seattle conveys the same message when he warns the Americans that the “dead are not powerless” and when he hopes that the Americans will “be just and deal kindly with” his people. Seattle ends the speech with a slightly optimistic message – that his people are not powerless because the dead are not powerless and that the Americans should not underestimate the tribe.

Through the use of contrast, a harsh and absolute tone towards his world, and personification of various entities, Seattle successfully conveys his message to Governor Stevens. Seattle uses these strategies to appeal to Governor Stevens and convince him to treat his people in a justified manner. However, at the same time, he wants Stevens to know the dangerous aspects of his tribe. With his masterfully worded speech, Chief Seattle effectively relays his message to Governor Stevens.