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In 1854, the “Great White Chief” in Washington made an offer for a large area of Indian land and promised a “reservation” for the Indian people. Chief Seattle was an important Native American leader in the middle of the 19th century. He was considered very wise by everyone. It is said that he delivered a heartfelt speech to the governor of the state of Washington. It was a memorable speech because of its recognition of the necessity to preserve the land, an important and timely topic today. A translation of the speech was published in the Seattle Sunday Star newspaper on October 28, 1857.


Extract I

“Yonder sky that has wept tears … greetings of friendship and goodwill.”

Question (i): Who speaks these words? Give the meaning of:

“Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold”

Answer (i): These words are spoken by Chief Seattle.

It means that circumstances have been favourable for his people for countless centuries. His tribe has prospered and reached its glory during this period.

Question (ii): Why does the speaker say “tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds”?

Answer (ii): Chief Seattle fears that the day is not far when their race might disappear. Seattle says this because he has to take tough decision of surrendering their land to White people in return for protection from lurking enemy tribes.

Question (iii): Who is the ‘Great Chief at Washington’? What has the Great Chief done to Seattle and his people?

Answer (iii): Seattle believes that George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, is the Great Chief at Washington.

The Great Chief has sent kind greetings of friendship and goodwill to Seattle and his people.

Question (iv): How much are Seattle’s words reliable as far as the Great Chief is concerned?

Answer (iv): Seattle’s words are like stars that never change. Whatever he says the Great Chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons.

Question (v): Briefly state the reaction of Chief Seattle to the greetings sent by the Big Chief at Washington?

Answer (v): Chief Seattle says that Big Chief at Washington was being kind to them for sending greetings of friendship and goodwill, even if he has little need for their friendship in return.


Extract II

“His people are many. … in need of an extensive country.”

Question (i): Compare the number of Chief Seattle’s people with that of the White Chief. How does the narrator illustrate this fact?

Answer (i): Chief Seattle’s people are few and resemble the scattering trees of storm-swept plain, whereas, White Chief’s people are many like the grass that covers the vast prairies.

Question (ii): What message does the White Chief send to the native people?

Answer (ii): The White Chief conveyed the message of buying the land of native people. The natives will have to surrender their land to the White people and have to move away from their ancestor’s land to the land reserved for them.

Question (iii): A little later, how does Seattle describe that his people were numerous once upon a time?

Answer (iii): Seattle says that there was a time in the past when his people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor.

Question (iv): State the message sent by the White Chief to the native people. What is the reaction of Chief Seattle to the message?

Answer (iv): White Chief sent a message expressing his wish to buy the land of the native people and was willing to offer them enough land to live comfortably.

Chief Seattle reacted by saying that the message appeared just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights on their land, and the offer of reservation for native people seemed to be wise as their population was declining and are no longer in need for an extensive country.

Question (v): What happened when the White man began to push the natives Westward? Should the native people take revenge on the White men? Why?

Answer (v): When the White man began to push the natives Westward the impulsive young men of Seattle’s tribe grew angry and launched revengeful action against the White man. White men were more in number and powerful, any attempt at revenge would be futile and wholly self-destructive. Moreover, old men who stay at home in times of war and mothers who have young sons to lose would have lost everything and gained nothing.


Extract III

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