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On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a Letter to My Grandfather

Reflections by Ken Workman, 5th generation Great-Grandson of Chief Seattle

Scene: It’s late September / early October in Seattle. Ken Workman, 5th generation Great-Grandson of Chief Seattle, and Chief Seattle are sitting on a log on the west shores of Elliott Bay. It’s one of those typical fall days in Seattle where the skies consist of broken clouds and patches of blue. The temperatures are starting to change; it’s getting colder now. Salish Sea Waves are beginning to build. They’re still relatively small. They lap up against the pebbles on the sandy beach with all the accompanying sights, sounds, and smells of a Seattle shore. Ocean sounds and beach smells permeate the environment.

Ken and Grandpa Seattle sit discussing the new world and how it has changed so radically since the Chief time.

“Hi Grandpa, it’s good to see you. Did you ever imagine? People want to know did you see all this change coming? Did you know, did you have a vision? So much has changed since you’ve been gone. The world moves at a quicker pace now, it’s hard for your mother’s people (Duwamish) to keep up. More people, less space, hunger in the streets. The world is changing. Did you see the skyscrapers? Skyscrapers…Longhouses tipped on end. Did you see the many people that would be coming? So many people, so many places. The world is changing, Grandpa. It’s getting smaller. People can travel now from one side of the world to the other in one day! People travel in the sky, in airplanes, sky-canoes (q’il’bid). The world is round – bu̓lux̌ʷ (Sphere) – it takes about 22 years (Saliʔacʷiʔ-Saliəla̓dxʷ) to walk around it. Just takes one day if you travel in a sky canoe.”

“The world is changing, Grandpa, and yet it remains the same. People still fight amongst people, tribe against tribe, nation against nation. Your mother’s people (Duwamish) remain here on the land named after you. We continue to shepherd over it and be mindful of time and place. We wait for our papers, your papers. They do not arrive from the US Government, even now 155 years later. People are trying to care for the land, Grandpa, but there are so many people here now. From the whole world they come, they come and are welcomed by your mother’s people. They come and we welcome them very much in a way you must have done more than 160 years ago. They are welcomed in Seattle by us, the Duwamish people.”

 “Grandpa, the world is changing.”

Ken Workman is an enrolled member of the Duwamish Tribe, 5th generation Great-Grandson of Chief Seattle. His leadership with the Duwamish Tribe and community work includes serving as a Tribal Council member for the Duwamish Tribe’s governmental entity (now ex-officio Tribal Council member); former president of the Duwamish Tribal Services, the nonprofit arm of the tribe; and board service with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Ken is now retired from having had a long career at The Boeing Company’s Flight Operations Engineering Group, where he worked as a Systems and Data Analyst. He now enjoys retirement during which he takes long walks in the mountains east of Seattle where he lives on a river.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.