Located in the town of Suquamish Washington, the little plot of land was bequeathed from a homestead to Saint Peter Catholic Mission for a cemetery by John Kettle “from a northern tribe, captured and adopted by Port Madison Indians about 1880.” It is home to Yio-Dach-Ted, Chaa-Hab-Dud, Jacob Wahalchu, last chief of the Suquamish Tribe, and the prolific Kitsaps, Pratts, Rodgers, Snyders and Georges.
This is also the final resting place of Si’ahl (baptized as Noah Sealth) who gave his name to the global business hub of Seattle. Erected 25 years after his death by the pioneers he supported so faithfully, the original marble gravestone reads: “Seattle, Chief of the Suquampsh and Allied tribes. Died June 7 1866. The firm friend of the whites, and for him the City of Seattle was named by its founders. SEALTH.”
A master of espionage and military strategy, when alerted about a pending assault by Haida raiders, Si’ahl staged an ambush which won him the acclaim of his elders and eventual appointment as chief of the Duwamish, Suquamish and other allied tribes. At his military height during the Battle for Seattle, he stood down his army of 4,000 battle-tested warriors and over a hundred sea-going war canoes minimizing bloodshed and allowing pioneer survival. As the settlements prospered and Si’ahl grew longer in years, he demonstrated business acumen by franchising the use of his name for a lifetime annuity paid for by a per capita tax on all new businesses.
Suquamish resident Brian Kenward lives across the street from the little cemetery. “I see people come and go from time to time – often tourists from far away.” Brian recently returned from his sojourn as an expat in Chilean Patagonia and has an affinity for travelers. “I doubt that one in ten Seattle residents knows where Chief Seattle is buried, but global visitors find their way.” Sometimes people fail to notice the sacred places that are right before their eyes.
A young Si’ahl witnessed Captain George Vancouver’s ships transversing Puget Sound in 1792 then survived successive plagues of smallpox and influenza visited upon the indigenous population. Yet, he never learned to write and delivered his orations in Duwamish, Suquamish or Chinook jargon. His extant speeches were recorded decades after his death in English with dubious accuracy. However, eloquent they certainly are.
“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished,” he is remembered as saying. “At night when the streets of your cities are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts of spirits that once filled them and still love this beautiful land.”
Similar sentiments, engraved in English and Suquamish, are carved into the memorial encircling wall. “Even the rocks thrill at memories of past events,” the script runs. “The very dust beneath your feet responds more lovingly to (Native) footsteps, because it is the ashes of our ancestors.”
Kenward has noted a similar reverence for the gravesite tokens and mementos. We’ve seen kids of all ages wading in fountains and reflection pools, scooping up change left by pilgrims and hopeful visitors,” says Kenward. “No one does that here.”
Just below the cemetery stands a memorial park dedicated to Chief Seattle, Chief Kitsap and centuries of honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces completed by Suquamish warriors. A mile farther down the road stands the multimillion-dollar Suquamish Clearwater casino resort, lending new interpretation to the poignant, melancholy, and cautionary prose attributed to the great chief. “Be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless,” reads a line known to European students, if not their American counterparts. “Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
Certainly, the thousands of patrons who flock to the resort’s gambling tables, restaurants, waterfront hotel and spa, plus the tens of thousands of dollars which are funneled into tribal coffers on a daily basis, testify to a definite “change of worlds.”
Mike Howard has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the South Seas. His photos and articles have appeared in the Bonaire Reporter, Caribbean Beach Magazine, On A Junket (Bad Guys and Borders) and Hemispheres In-Flight Magazine.