Background: Chief Seattle nurtured a peaceful relationship between Native Americans and white settlers in the mid 1800’s. His speech to the Washington territorial governor Isaac Stevens emphasized the eternal ancestral spirits that inhabit the natural world. Chief Seattle’s words became a touchstone for the environmental movement more than a century later. Yet, the government of the city that bears his name forbade Indians from living inside city limits. The Duwamish people, his matriarchal lineage, are still not recognized by the Federal Government as a tribe. Chief Seattle’s example of making peace between indigenous and aggressor, along with his words of human symbiosis with the natural world are vital today to provide hope for the future. How can crucial lessons from Chief Seattle be brought to today’s teaming metropolis on the land of his ancestors?
Activities: This project will cull the history of Chief Seattle and his continued significance to the region, country, and world that can be found in oral histories, archives, newspapers, and books. Ten scenes of narrative (i.e. the Battle of Seattle, the speech to Isaac Stevens, his daughter’s residence within city limits, etc.) will be developed to weave a compelling dramatic script. Ten pieces of music (i.e. using sounds and rhythms from Seattle’s native Lushootseed language) will be composed to explore thematic issues from the script. Ten performances of narrative recitation and improvisation on the composed music by the Steve Griggs Ensemble will connect the written material with the audiences. The venues for performances will be tied to historically significant locations – for the local indigenous population (The Duwamish Long House and John T. Williams Honor Totem Pole), general public (Denny Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Park, Pioneer Square Park, Smith Cove Park, Tillicum Place, and Waterfront Park), and students (Chief Seattle High School and Wilson-Pacific School). The music will be recorded at Jack Straw Studios for commercial release.
Context: This project will be a culmination of my recent work “Songs of Unsung Seattle” that mixes my passion for historic research, social justice, teaching, writing, composing, and performing. The other projects under this title are “Panama Hotel Jazz: Music Made from Memories” about Japanese American endurance of unconstitutional incarceration during WWII and “A Cup of Joe Brazil” about community building through music in the face of racial injustice against blacks.
“Panama” was created through a 4Culture Historic Site Specific grant and won an ASCAP/Chamber Music America Adventurous Programming Award. Two years of monthly performances are being supported by a National Park Service Japanese Confinement Sites grant. Development of source material for “Brazil” was supported through grants from 4Culture and the Jack Straw Foundation. “Panama” and “Brazil” were presented five times each at branches of the Seattle Public Library through the Chamber Music America Residency Partnership Program.
Impact: Developing the two recent projects revealed a pattern of discrimination that continued back to the first white settlement of the region. Despite the subhuman treatment of the indigenous people by the newcomers, Chief Seattle was for a long time able to maintain positive relationships. The events of Seattle’s life provide vital lessons about American identity, inter-racial relationships, and human impact on nature. The city’s current development of the waterfront provides an opportunity to connect contemporary residents with an ancient relationship to nature and orientation to the region’s ancestry.