Tilikum Place, Seattle, Washington, USA
It was into a time of great change that a baby boy was born to the Suquamish warrior chief Schweabe and his Duwamish wife, Sholitza, in 1786. When that little boy, who they’d named Si’ahl, was just six years old, he watched from his home on Bainbridge Island as George Vancouver’s H.M.S. Discovery dropped anchor in Puget Sound. European colonization had arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The peaceful, friendly relations established by Schweabe with the newcomers allowed the local tribes to continue with their traditions, customs and their way of life, and for his son, Si’ahl to grow up in the way his father had, and his father’s father before him. As a young man, Si’ahl established himself as a natural leader of his people. And soon, he himself was chief. Like his father before him, Si’ahl believed in peace with the European arrivals in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, peace with neighbouring tribes seemed beyond even Si’ahl’s reach. For years, he struggled against the Patkanim and Snohomish clans, and eventually, those conflicts pushed Si’ahl and his people out of their Bainbridge Island home. But Si’ahl had met and befriended the white settler and pioneer, David Swinson ‘Doc’ Maynard. And it was with Doc Maynard’s help that in 1853 Si’ahl and his people settled in the area that came to bear the Anglicised version of Si’ahl’s name, Seattle. Si’ahl continued to seek peace with the European settlers, even converting to Christianity as a sign of his ongoing cooperation. But whereas Si’ahl’s culture was one of respect for the natural world around us, collaboration and partnership with it, the European culture was one of ownership. At the signing of a treaty at Port Elliot that would concede 2.5 million acres of local land to the white community, Si’ahl objected. And he gave the speech for which he remains famous to this day. ‘How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?’ he asked. ‘The idea is strange to us. If you do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?’ They were questions the settlers were unable to answer. But the sale went ahead nonetheless. Chief Si’ahl died in 1866 at the age of 90. In a reservation, a small plot of land set aside for his tribe by the white man who’d tried to buy the fresh air and the running water Si’ahl had loved all his life.