Chief Sealth (Seattle)

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Sealth was born about 1786. His father, Schweabe, was Suquamish and his mother, Scholitza, was Duwamish. As a young boy in 1792, he witnessed the arrival of the first Europeans: British Captain George Vancouver entered Puget Sound and traded with the Suquamish.  

As a young adult, Sealth successfully stopped an attack against the Suquamish by the Cascade tribes. About 1825, he set up a successful ambush on a river bend near present-day Auburn. As a result of this military success, he was designated as a tribal chief. From 1820 to 1850 he was a spokesman and diplomat for the Suquamish and other Puget Sound tribes in their dealings with fur traders and missionaries.

In 1852, he formed a partnership with David “Doc” Maynard from Olympia to set up a fishery on Elliot Bay. He hired the Duwamish to help him build a new store and named it the “Seattle Exchange” after Chief Sealth. He filed a city plat with Seattle as the new settlement’s name. Maynard obtained Sealth’s permission in exchange for an annual payment during his lifetime. Among the traditional Suquamish, the names of the dead are not mentioned for at least five years and the names of dead chiefs are not to be uttered for ten. The payment, a kind of royalty, was an acknowledgment of the pain which would be inflicted on Sealth after his death because a variation of his name-Seattle-would continue to be spoken.

Seattle became an important economic outlet for the Suquamish and Duwamish people and allowed them easier access to American goods.

In 1855, Sealth and other tribal leaders in the Puget Sound area signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. In this treaty, the Suquamish gave up most of their land in exchange for a small reservation, health care, education, and acknowledgment and protection of their rights to continue to fish and hunt.

The 1855 treaties imposed on the Indian nations of Washington by Governor Isaac Stevens led to a war east of the Cascade Mountains led by Kamiakin, and the Puget Sound War led by Leschi. Despite these wars and the many grievances of the Indian people against the American invaders, Sealth kept his people at peace.

He died in 1866 at the Old Man House winter village and is buried in the Suquamish cemetery.

Chief Seattle’s (Sealth’s) Grave:

Shown below are some photographs of Chief Sealth’s grave.

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Suquamish Canoes (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast culture area is oriented toward water: both the ocean and the many rivers flowing into it. Before the coming of the Europeans, the villages were built near water, either on the sea coast or on a river. Transportation was primarily by water. Distances were measured by how far a canoe could travel in a single day. The traditional cultures of the Norwest Coast Indians nations, such as the Suquamish, is often characterized as a canoe culture.

The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island.

Traditionally the Suquamish, a Salish-speaking people, were a maritime people. Since settling in the area thousands of years ago, they carried out trade by travelling long distances throughout the Salish Sea. They travelled northward to the islands, westward to the Pacific Ocean and down the coast. They travelled for fishing, trading, visiting, and warfare against enemy nations.

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During the 20th century the canoe culture which had characterized Suquamish life nearly disappeared. Then in 1989, a revitalization began with Paddle to Seattle. This event marked the beginning of the re-emergence of many aspects of Suqamish culture.

Carriers of the Canoe Culture Through Time

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There are many creation stories among the people: these stories do not contradict one another. In the Suquamish Museum there are six sculptures holding up a canoe giving homage to Carriers of the Canoe Culture through Time.

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The two animals at the back of the canoe are Otters: they represent the earliest times of creation, when people and animals could shape shift and had the full freedom of communication.

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The two figures in the center represent the Ancestors, from a time before the land was shared with non-Indians.

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The two people in the front of the canoe are the Suquamish people today.

Modern Canoes:

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Suquamish Art (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished and continues to flourish. The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island in what is now the state of Washington.  Suquamish art continues today in a variety of different media. One room of the Suquamish Museum is dedicated to contemporary art forms.  

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Basketry:

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Woodwork:

One of the outstanding characteristics of the tribes of Northwest Coast is the highly developed skill of woodworking. Contemporary Suquamish artists continue to work in wood.

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One of the unique items among Northwest Coast Indians are kerfed boxes in which the sides of the box are made by scoring and then bending a single board to form the sides of the box. The single side seam is then carefully fitted and sewn together with spruce root. The bottom of the box is also carefully fitted and sewn to the sides. Shown above is a contemporary version of this traditional box.

Personal Adornment and Clothing:

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Masks:

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Wall Art:

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The design shown above is needlepoint.

Other art:

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Suquamish Veterans Memorial (Photo Diary)

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While the United States government has generally been less than honorable in its dealings with Indian nations and with Indian people, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Indian people have shown great loyalty and patriotism by serving in the U.S. military. As a result of their service in World War I, all Indian veterans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1919 and all Indians were given citizenship in 1924. Indians were given citizenship again in 1940 to make sure that they would be eligible for the draft.  

Shown below are some photographs of the Suquamish Veterans Memorial.

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A few hundred meters up the hill from the memorial is the cemetery where Chief Seattle was buried. The American flags dotted the burial grounds mark the graves of Indian veterans.

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