Dr. Henry Smith, for whom Smith Cove is named, as he appeared in his later life. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

Dr. Henry Smith, for whom Smith Cove is named, as he appeared in his later life. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

One hundred fifteen years years ago, on Oct. 29, 1887, Magnolia’s first pioneer Dr. Henry Smith, published the now-famous rendition of Chief Sealth’s speech in The Seattle Star. This was nearly 30 years after the speech was made. 

This speech is “a widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native American land rights.” 

Dr. Coll Thrush and Greg Watson wrote about the speech in an exhibit called “Change of Worlds” for the Museum of History and Industry: “Chief Seattle was a generous and friendly neighbor to the immigrants who began settling on his tribes’ land in 1851, several years before treaties made it legal for them to do so. He was also a political realist, foreseeing that the numbers and armed might of the spreading European-American culture made hostility useless. The 1854 speech…appears to be an accurate reflection of the Indian leader’s views on the ‘change of worlds.’

“The speech did not appear in print until more than three decades after the treaty negotiations with the American government. It appeared in the…edition of The Seattle Sunday Star as a reminiscence of Dr. Henry Smith. [Magnolia’s first pioneer] after whom Smith Cove…is named, was one of the area’s earliest white residents. He was present at the first meeting with Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens in 1854, where he took notes of Chief Seattle’s oratory as it was translated into English for the Governor and his party: 

‘Your religion was written on tablets of stone by the iron finger of an angry God lest you forget. The red man could never comprehend nor remember it. Our religion is the tradition of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men given to them in the solemn hours of the night by the great spirit and the visions of the leaders, and it is written in the hearts of our people….’

‘And when the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among the white men shall become a myth, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe; and when your children’s children shall think themselves alone in the fields, the store, the shop, upon the highway or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth, there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night, when the streets of your cities and villages will be silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. 

‘The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.’” 


Chief Sealth, of the Duwamish Tribe, could not have imagined the “world change.” The first recorded population of Seattle was in 1860, when 188 lived here and now has burgeoned to 634,535, with predictions of a large migration into the city in the next 30 years. 

But most significant is the inability of the Duwamish tribe to get recognition and rights from the federal government: “Nearly 36 years ago in 1977, the Duwamish Tribe, the people of Chief Seattle, petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition. Originally told their quest to be recognized would probably take only about five years, the Duwamish tribe fell victim to multiple changes in the BIA’s (Bureau of Indian Affairs) process ultimately ending in denial in 2001.”

“Nearly 150 years ago, after the Duwamish Tribe signed the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855, [Chief Sealth signed with Isaac Stevens and others], they are still seeking federal recognition, which was granted in 2001 but denied under dubious circumstances eight months later,” U.S. Rep Jim McDermott wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in May. 

Since 2003, McDermott has introduced a bill every two years to restore recognition to the Duwamish, which has never made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources; his latest attempt of July 1, 2013 languishes again.

Duwamish chairpersion Cecile Hanson said, “It is common sense that our tribe should be acknowledged by the federal government. It offends me that we have worked so very hard and talked to historians and worked with volunteers and paid petition writers to help pull this together — but then to sit through this awful, awful process? We were told over 30 years ago that we should be able to get through the process within five years — that was a fib. We now live on a two-thirds-of-an-acre reservation. We gave up 54,000 acres, which is Seattle.”

MONICA WOOTON is co-president Magnolia Historical Society (www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.