Seattle, Columbus, and Historical Fictions
Chief Seattle, who gave his name to the currently troubled city in the State of Washington, was pure Native American (father Suquamish, mother Duwamish). A mighty warrior, he essentially eliminated the rival Chimakum tribe in a battle on what is now the Quimper Peninsula. Like other native chiefs, he owned slaves. And he was a convert, probably in his fifties, to Roman Catholicism.
I learned about him more than 30 years ago, when I was researching my very first book, 1492 and All That, as controversy was raging about the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. Seattle’s story shows how complex, to say the least, are our individual lives – and how false and disrespectful of those lives it is to use past historical figures in what are manufactured, simple-minded, ideological morality plays.
Native Americans are not supposed to have been violent, like “white men.” Or at least not against other Native Americans, because all those different peoples must have been One Harmonious Anti-White Thing, no?
And his tribe, as “people of color” (which for the moment seems to include Hispanic descendants of Spanish conquistadores), couldn’t have owned slaves or perpetrated “genocide” against another tribe.
And how could such a man, as a successful and mature adult, choose to become, of all things, a Catholic?