Speech on the Signing of the Treaty of Port Elliott by Chief Seattle

There are two separate intentions in Chief Seattle’s speech, one for each of the audiences he is addressing. His intention for the white settlers is to make them rethink their actions and morals, and to leave them with a haunted feeling. The intention for his tribe is to instill a sense of hope in them, to pay tribute to all their loved ones  who are buried on the land, and to remind the people that no man can take away their connection to the land they love.

This speech is filled with nature metaphors. One that compares the Native Americans and the white settlers to day and night is very powerful . It reads, “Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun.” Chief Seattle recognizes, and admits, that just as day and night cannot exist together, the White Man and Red Man cannot coexist. For this reason, he is surrendering the land to the white settlers in order to avoid conflict, and maintain peace.

Chief Seattle’s tone throughout the speech is similar to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tone in his piece “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Both men speak with dignity, and use a calm and peaceful tone. The issues they speak about are serious and important; they need to be handled with care, which both men do beautifully.

One of the most powerful quotes in the speech reads, “At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.” This not only gives the white settlers an eerie feeling that they will forever be haunted by the spirits that once inhabited the land, it reminds the Native Americans that they will always be present on the land, and will stay connected to it. It also reminds them of perhaps one of Chief Seattle’s most important points in the speech, which is, “There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

— Kayla Gay

Chief Seattle speaks with an overall calm and dignified tone, but his choice of language in various areas of this speech also express a sort of passive-aggressive undertone that gives it added pathos since it makes the audience feel guilt and/or shame for what has been done to the Natives. One example of this is when the Chief speaks of the President in Washington, saying “The White Chief says that the Big Chief in Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. That is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return.” This quote just makes me think of someone who’s had a “friend” who said they wanted the best for them, but the “friend” ended up disregarding the other person’s feelings and needs for their own self-gain. The next few lines of this quote brings in more guilt-ridden pathos for the audience using imagery from nature, ” His people are many. They are like the grass that covers vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain.” Seattle additionally refers to the president as “our great good father”, which sounds bitterly sarcastic, making the audience question if the “Big Chief” is as “great” or “good” as they make him out to be.  Chief Seattle’s use of language appeals to pathos by causing the audience to feel guilt, shame, or even self-doubt about the decisions made for the Native Americans helps to make this speech more effective in getting the intended message across.

Chief Seattle also brings in ethos to this speech when he speaks about the God of the Americans and the God of the natives. He immediately denounces the Christian God because He loves the Americans/whites but hates the Natives, stating bluntly that “He has forsaken his red children– if they really are his.” At that point in time the Christian faith (no matter the denomination) was extremely important to many Americans. Their God was an important part of the audience’s lives and their faith also held great influence (which is still the case even today for many Christians in America).  So by speaking of this God, Seattle uses the ethos that comes with it to grab the audience’s attention. This religious ethos also helps the speaker appeal to pathos once again because most people who believe in God see Him as a loving and caring deity who would never forsake His children, whether they believe in Him or not. So a religious audience is bound to feel sadness or pity when they hear/read a line like, “The white man’s god cannot love our people or He would protect them”

This speech is a bit unique from others as it is one that is delivered through oral speech and written word, mainly due to the fact that it was originally presented by Chief Seattle himself using his native language. Luckily, Henry A. Smith was there to both translate and record the speech for the English-speaking portion of the audience. The original spoken delivery of the speech was effective for the same reason that Queen Elizabeth I’s Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, which was that it was being delivered by the original writer/speaker of the speech themselves. This method of delivery shows that the speaker truly cares about the issue at hand and those involved, but also gives the speech more credibility/ethos. The second method of delivery in the written form is almost equally as effective as the spoken speech because of Smith’s skills in translating the speecch into English without butchering the original meanings for non-native audiences to read/hear .

— Mira Bauer


“Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend with friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.” This quote is especially interesting with regards to current events. Some Americans feel very threatened by immigration because it means change to the society and culture they know. It is projected that by 2050 or earlier, Caucasians will be the minority. Does this mean the end of the white European control of the continent? Is this the “time of decay” Chief Seattle foretold? However, even if new groups move into an area, the ideas of the previous group continue to live on in some way, so regardless of whether or not America experiences deep change in the upcoming years, the principle the nation is built upon will last.


Throughout his speech, Chief Seattle personifies nature. He begins with saying, “Yonder sky… has wept tears of compassion upon my people.” Chief Seattle’s people believe in the importance and significance of nature. They see it as a being, almost a member of their tribe, there to guide them and advise them on what they are doing. The white men see nature as something that they control and can use to advance themselves. The personification of nature showed the deep contrast between Seattle’s people and the white men, and showed that regardless of whether they would remain on the land, Seattle’s people would never take the white man’s view on nature.


“Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow may be overcast with clouds.” This quote was particularly inspirational for me because it shows that nothing is truly constant. Things that we think are unchanging and ever present, such as relationships, might change. This can be scary at times, but it also means that the bad things that happen are never constant. No matter what happens today, tomorrow will be different, and that’s encouraging.

–Alyssa Cassidy

According to record, Chief Seattle delivered this speech in his native tongue with his hand on the head of Governor Stevens, Chief Seattle being a foot taller than the governor. The speech was later translated to English, but at the time of its delivery, Seattle’s only intended audience would have been those who could understand the language. We can assume that he was accompanied by other members of his tribe, and we know for a fact that there were white settlers present as, throughout the essay, Seattle addresses the settlers in first person. How much of his speech the settlers actually understood is unclear, but the Chief speaks to them as if they were having a very one-sided conversation. The settlers know they have taken control of the Native’s lands, and Seattle uses their memory of this as premise for his speech. One of my favorite quotes from the piece was ” The red man no longer has rights that he (the white man) need respect, and the offer may be wise also, as we are no longer in need of an extensive country.” What the Chief means by this is that so many members of his tribe and others have been killed, that they no longer need the space they once did. The subtle morbidity of this quote, paired with Seattle’s resigned tone, is enough to make any reader’s heart break with pangs of guilt.

–Tay Sauer

Many readers of this speech come with memory of the interactions between white settlers and Native Americans.  Most of this knowledge comes from the teachings of American history within schools.  This leads most readers to read this essay pitying the Native Americans.  The indented audience of this speech was two groups of people with very strong and opposite views.  So, while the original audience brought very different views to the content, readers today come in with similar frames of mind.  This causes the view of the essay to be skewed toward one side of the argument.

Though the speaker of this speech is Chief Seattle, the readers are only given one person’s translation of it.  Henry A. Smith is given credit for translating the speech from the Salish language, Chief Seattle’s native tongue, into English.  The speech is credited for its formality and eloquence, but since the speech is not direct from the speaker, Smith may be the person behind its stylistic choices.  While Chief Seattle is accredited for the speech’s content, the diction and syntax may all be the work of Henry A. Smith.

Quote: “Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.”  This quote shows Chief Seattle’s wisdom and experience with the white settlers.  He has seen his people go to battle over their land and knows that it is not worth it to fight over the land.

-Steph Lohbeck

Intention:  Chief Seattle’s intention was to address how the fundamental differences between his people and “the white men” affect the Native American’s acceptance to move to a reservation, and how illogical the coexistence of these two groups of people are because of their differences.

Style: Seattle uses a very distinct style in his speech. His tone and use of descriptive language not only draw the audience in, but force them to visualize his points. By saying “Your religion was written upon tables by the iron finger of your God” and “Your dead cease to love you and their land of nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander beyond the stars.” Seattle not only describes the differences in religion between his people and the white men, but forces the audience to see his way through his beautiful language. The tone accompanying these statements get the point across. By utilizing an emotional tone, the Chief bolster his pathos and argument as result. His attachment to his people and their tradition make you feel like you should be attached to them as well. His tone though, is more accepting than resisting. It draws the audience to feel sympathy for him, as opposed to being appalled by his resistance.

Memory: The Chief references how “Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but our old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.” By talking about how war, a universal topic, and the emotions associated with sending young family members off to war. Seattle causes the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (his audience) to remember any young men in his life they may have lost to war. This personalizes the experience of the listener, and causes he or she to see sense in peace as opposed to fighting because they to have lost someone.

Logos: Seattle uses appeals to logos when discussing religion to demonstrate that the “white men” and his people cannot peacefully coexist. He discusses how “The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them” and “If we have a common Heavenly Father, he must be partial-for He came to his pale face children. We never saw him.” Logically, those who follow the Bible believe God protects his people, and conversely, the Native Americans are not his people because he did not protect them from the white men.

–Sarah Braunstein


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