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Myth attribution: Chief Seattle and Ted Perry

Chief Seattle

The only known photograph of Chief Seattle, taken 1864

(Updated April 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm MDT)

I have a great respect for and love of native American Indian philosophy and religion, so it was deeply disappointing to learn that the quotation in my post It’s Earth Day (a re-post of Earth Day 2011) is not from Chief Seattle.

This was brought to my attention by my friend ImALibertarian, who sent me a link to the relevant page at Snopes.com, a site dedicated to exposing erroneous information on the Internet. According to Snopes, the quotation I used was actually penned by screenwriter Ted Perry in 1971 for the little-known 1972 film Home. Wikipedia confirms the information, as do numerous other sources.

I was doubly disappointed because I didn’t get the quotation from the Internet, purveyor of so much misinformation. I got it from a treasured little book in my library entitled Earth Prayers from Around the World: 366 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon and published in 1991 by HarperOne. I perused the book for several hours last year to find the perfect quote for Earth Day, the one that best expressed my personal views. And with all there was to choose from — wouldn’t you know — I settled on the one clouded in controversy.

The book’s publication date is notable because all the sources cited by Snopes were published in 1991 or later. Apparently Perry, mistakenly thinking his name on the film was sufficient to confirm he’d written the speech, languished in the shadow of Chief Seattle for twenty years before the truth became widely known in 1991 after the publication of a New York Times best-selling children’s book entitled Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. The Times itself exposed the myth in a front page article in 1992.

I would prefer to think of the words as Chief Seattle’s; his name was the benediction I sought. But it would be a disservice to his memory and to Ted Perry not to set the record straight.

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More information:

7 Comments »

  1. Good for you, PT, for wanting to set the record straight. But, being of partial native descent myself, I also love your motivation for using the poem in the first place. Speaking of clouding the real history of Native Americans, have you ever seen the PBS Documentary “Reel Injun”? It was a most impressive piece. I laughed, cried, and cursed through the entire thing.

    • Well, the correction in the post certainly spoils the mood I was trying to set. But I couldn’t let the error stand. I’ll just have to find a different quotation next year.

      I haven’t seen that documentary, and based on the trailer, I’m not sure I’d want to see it. I grew up watching those movies and TV shows, and I love the American West. But as an adult, the misrepresentation made me cry, as does the truth of what really happened then.

"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." ~ Mark Twain

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