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Evaluation of Chief Seattle’s Speech to Governor Isaac A. Stevens

In his oration to Governor Isaac A. Stevens, Chief Seattle discusses his point of view of the US government’s attempt to purchase native lands. His oration attempts to caution the government to deal justly with the Native Americans. By contrasting his tribe with the Americans, employing the use of figurative language, and adapting a somber tone Chief Seattle emphasizes his urgency for equity.

Throughout his speech, Chief Seattle utilizes the strategy of contrasting his native men with American white men. He says, “His [America’s] people are many… My people are few”. By stating the varying population of both sides, Chief Seattle presents the idea that Americans should feel it to be a responsibility to treat the dwindling group fairly. He associates the white men with the obligation to protect the natives from further decline. Likewise, Chief Seattle cites, “To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret.” By contrasting the traditional customs of the natives and the indifferent practices of the white men, Chief Seattle creates a barrier between cultures which compels the government to respect the native’s principles and, consequently, their willingness to cede their lands.

In addition, Chief Seattle includes numerous similes throughout his speech. In the second paragraph, he states, “There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor.” By comparing the previous numbers of the native people with the waves of an immense sea, Chief Seattle asserts the concept that his men were once great and mighty and, though they have diminished to only a few, they deserve a scrupulous deal from the white men. He continues this idea by stating, “Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return.” With the use of this simile, Chief Seattle further supports the decline of the native people and their deserving of respect.

Furthermore, Chief Seattle crafts a somber tone throughout his oration which aids in underlining his advice of caution to the US government. Such tone is evident in his descriptions of the pitiable deterioration of his native men, evident in the sentences, “Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassions upon my people,” “I will not dwell on… our untimely decay,” “It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many.” The adaptation of a dismal tone emphasizes the urgency in his warning. It also develops a sense that consequences are likely to occur if the government does not yield Chief Seattle’s advice of fairly dealing with the natives.

Though the Native American population already began to wane before the US government decided to purchase their lands, they certainly deserve a just deal in the two groups’ mutual affairs. They have accepted the defeat in attempting to reacquire their homelands and reviving their numbers. Leaders, such as Chief Seattle, only ask from the US to treat them with a sympathetic attitude. The establishment of Native American reservations certainly indicates that they treated the natives with some consideration.

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