Henry Smith

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Recording credits abound under this name, yet this is the only one who dates back to an era prior to the start of the so-called "music industry." Dr. Henry Smith, described by historians as a "frontier…
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Recording credits abound under this name, yet this is the only one who dates back to an era prior to the start of the so-called "music industry." Dr. Henry Smith, described by historians as a "frontier doctor and would-be poet," is linked to the translation of a letter written to various representatives of the United States government by Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and the Duwamish tribes. Circle of Faith: The Words of Chief Seattle, a late-'90s project involving the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and narrator John Belindo, is an example of the sort of artistic works inspired by the big chief.

The following opening lines are often quoted in the official translation of Chief Seattle's original speech: "The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky, the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?" These rhetorical questions, as well as concepts such as "the earth is our mother" that are present throughout the text, have become part of the canon of the pro-environment struggle, not to mention garnering a symbolic spot in Native American history.

Despite the mountains and lakes of basic truths underlying such words, their veracity as something Chief Seattle actually intended to say has come under scrutiny, including the original translation provided by Smith. The latter was only officially published 30 years after the speech itself. Although the good doctor claims to have taken notes and did supposedly have a working grasp of the Duwarnish language, his translation was eventually criticized by historians for indulging in the sort of poetic embellishment that members of these tribes were simply not known for, not even their chief.

The biggest problem, however, is that the comments Chief Seattle has become most famous for do not even originate in the Smith translation, which was originally published in a Seattle newspaper. "The earth is our mother" and "I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train" both actually originate in a 1971 screenplay by Ted Perry for a film about ecology entitled Home. The film community's lack of concern for accuracy involving Native American history is thus typically evident. Thousands of rotting bison? No such animals lived anywhere near Chief Seattle's tribal territory, nor had any train lines actually been established yet to the Pacific Northwest at the time of his speech. The area's Smith Cove was named after Dr. Henry Smith.