David M. Buerge’s Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name is billed as “the first thorough account of Chief Seattle and his times,” a “comprehensive story” of the colonization of Seattle that Buerge has supposedly been working on for two full decades.
So why has it taken so long to finally get the biography that Chief Seattle deserves? For one thing, many of the accounts are contradictory and passed down orally from generation to generation. For another, our writers have not always been interested in being fair-handed in their coverage of native history.
This is a book that tries to make peace of the many disparate accounts of this city’s namesake. Was he a common descendant of slaves, or was he a noble king? Which of the accounts of the founding of Seattle — if any — should we believe?
Buerge’s account tracks all the way back to the first flirtation of white America with the lands of the Pacific Northwest. Americans were drunk on the insanity of Andrew Jackson, and our nation’s bloodlust was reaching bold new heights. It’s a story of war and disease and dishonor and regret. In other words, it’s an American story.
On Wednesday, November 8th, Buerge will discuss his book with Duwamish Tribal Chair Cecile Hansen and Nile Thompson, a native languages expert, in a conversation moderated by Town Hall and Seattle Weekly founder David Brewster. The incorporation of Hansen and Thompson into the event is important; it would have been easy, twenty years ago, for Chief Seattle to be another Eurocentric story about the white men who "invented" the land on which we all live.
We expect more thoughtfulness and more inclusion from our history books now, and that’s as it should be. With this book Chief Seattle gets maybe his first shot at a full and fair examination of his legacy since the first white settlers showed up. That makes this a significant moment in Seattle history.
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.