“This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected”
--Chief Si’ahl, Namesake of the City of Seattle
The name “Seattle” is an Anglicization of Si'ahl (1780-1866), the most famous dxʷdəwʔabš chief. Si’ahl's mother Sholeetsa was dxʷdəwʔabš and his father Shweabe was chief of the the Suquamish Tribe. It is said that Si’ahl was born at his mother's dxʷdəwʔabš village of Stukw on the Black River, in what is now the city of Kent.
As a boy, Si'ahl saw British Captain George Vancouver's ships passing through the Khwulch (Puget Sound) in 1792. Vancouver anchored the ships HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham at the Suquamish summer village at Restoration Point, near the southeast corner of Bainbridge Island. Si'ahl and his father Shweabe saw the British visitors to Puget Sound.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Si'ahl witnessed epidemics of new diseases introduced by British and American traders, decimating Puget Sound’s Native population. Experts estimate that 12,000 Puget Sound Salish - over 30% of the Native population - died from smallpox, measles, influenza and other diseases introduced by Europeans during the first 80 years of contact.
It is said that Si'ahl grew up speaking both the dxʷdəwʔabš and Suquamish dialects of Lushootseed. Because Native descent was derived from both parent’s lineage, Si'ahl inherited his position as chief of the dxʷdəwʔabš Tribe from his maternal uncle. He built a strong alliance between the two nations of his parents.
As a young warrior, Si'ahl was known for his courage, daring, and leadership in battle. In the 1820s, thirty years before European-American immigrants landed on the shores of Elliott Bay, local tribes waited uneasily for a threatened invasion. Rumors had reached Si'ahl that a large force of warriors from the White River tribes was on its way downriver to make a night attack on the dxʷdəwʔabš.
Si'ahl set up a night ambush at a strategic bend in the Black River, defeating over 100 warriors in 5 large war canoes. When word of the victory reached Old Man House, the important Suquamish longhouse on Agate Pass, a council of six tribes chose Si'ahl as the leader of a 6-tribe confederation in central Puget Sound. As leader of six local tribes of central Puget Sound, Chief Si'ahl continued the friendly relations with European-American immigrants that his father began in 1792.
Protector and Benefactor
By 1851, Chief Si'ahl was a venerable leader respected for his peaceful ways, not his prowess at war. Chief Si'ahl and other members of the dxʷdəwʔabš Nation greeted the first European-American immigrants when they arrived at Alki Point, near Duwamish Head in what is now West Seattle.
From the early years of European-American settlement, Chief Si'ahl and the dxʷdəwʔabš worked hard to be protectors and benefactors of the immigrants. European-American immigrants perceived that Chief Si'ahl was an intelligent man striving to live amicably and peacefully with the newcomers.
Under Chief Si’ahl’s leadership, the dxʷdəwʔabš provided guides, transportation by canoe, and other tangible assistance, including labor for Henry Yesler's first sawmill, and potatoes from the dxʷdəwʔabš cultivated fields near Renton, enabling the new immigrants to survive and to thrive. The dxʷdəwʔabš Tribe burned sections of forest to promote clearings for their crops, and felled trees for canoes and lumber for their longhouses, sharing their skills and knowledge with the immigrants.
Chief Si'ahl and his tribes were helpful in times of distress. With no cows available, the new European-American immigrants lacked milk for their children. The dxʷdəwʔabš showed them how to substitute clam juice. The dxʷdəwʔabš helped to shelter the newcomers, teaching them how long boards could be split from straight-grained cedar. The dxʷdəwʔabš also traded salmon, venison, furs, and even potatoes from dxʷdəwʔabš gardens, to the new arrivals.