NLM healing totem journey – about Seattle

After the blessing ceremony in Semiahmoo, the NLM totem heads for Seattle, the largest city in the United States named after a Native American.

Chief Sealth, or Seattle, was the iconic leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes who lived along the shores of Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. (Sealth or ‘Ts’ial-la-kum’ is of Lushootseed origin, the language of many of the Coast Salish. Settlers found the name difficult to pronounce and anglicized to Seattle.)

Jewell Praying Wolf James, the master carver of totems healing poles who selected, designed, and carved the healing totem for the NLM’s Native Voices exhibition is a lineal nephew of Chief Seattle.

Born around 1786 on Blake Island in central Puget Sound, Chief Seattle became the most powerful and respected tribal leader in the region. A skilled, eloquent orator and a decisive leader, he was Chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish for decades.

Chief Seattle was interested in trade and befriended the settlers who came to Puget Sound — especially Dr. David Maynard, who met the Chief around 1850. Maynard introduced Chief Sealth to the three settlers now considered Seattle’s original founders, Carson Boren, William Bell, and Arthur Denny.

In 1855, Sealth led the American Indian council to accept the Treaty of Elliott Bay that ceded all of what is now Seattle to the United States. However, the treaty fostered animosity and friction between Native Americans and incoming settlers. Among other challenges, settlers sometimes encroached upon new reservation lands. The Duwamish never received a reservation promised under the Point Elliott Treaty, and many Duwamish joined other tribes and moved onto reservations, including the Lummi Indian reservation. The treaty and its aftermath caused some Duwamish to question Seattle’s leadership.

Despite these and other setbacks, Chief Sealth persisted and sustained friendly relationships between Puget Sound tribes and settlers. Dr. Maynard later led the successful effort to honor Chief Sealth by naming the community after him.

A statue commemorating the life of “Seattle, Chief of the Suquamish” also was created in 1912 and now stands at Tilikum Place, Seattle (see below). It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Chief Seattle died on June 6, 1866 on the Port Madison Reservation after a brief illness. He was about 80 years old. 

       (Photo: Statue of Chief Seattle, Tilikum Place, Seattle, Washington)


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