AP Writing Prompt – Chief Seattle


Total time-2 hours Question 1 ( Suggested time 40 minutes . This questions counts as one-third of the total score for Section II .) Carefully read Chief Seattle ' s oration to Governor Isaac I . Stevens who had just returned from Washington , DC with orders to buy Indian lands and create reservations . In a well-written essay identify Chief Seattle ' s purpose[BR1]  and analyze the rhetorical strategies[BR2]  he uses to convey his purpose . Consider such items as figurative language[BR3]  , organization[BR4]  , diction[BR5]  , and tone[BR6] .


... Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion[BR7]  upon my people for centuries untold , and which to us appears changeless and eternal , may change . Today is fair . Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds . My words are like the stars that never change . Whatever Seattle says the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun . The White Chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill . This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return . His people are many . They are like the grass that covers vast prairies[BR8]  . My people are few . They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain . The great , and I presume -good White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our lands but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably . This indeed appears just , even generous , for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect , and the offer may be wise , as we are no longer in need of an extensive country . There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind- ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor , but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory . I will not dwell on , nor mourn over , our untimely decay , nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it as we too may have been somewhat to blame . Youth is impulsive . When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong , and disfigure their faces with black paint , it denotes that their hearts are black , and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them . Thus it was when the white men first began to push our forefathers further westward . But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return . We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain . Our good father at Washington-for I presume he is now our father as well as yours-our great and good father , I say , sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us . But can that ever be ? Your God is not our God ! Your God loves your people and hates mine . He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the pale face-but he has forsaken his red children-if they really are his . Our God , the Great Spirit , seems also to have forsaken us . Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return . How then can we be brothers?  We are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies . To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground . You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret . Your dead cease to love you and the land of your nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars . Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being ... and often return to visit , guide , console , and comfort the lonely hearted living . It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days . They will not be many .  The Indians ' night[BR9]  promises to be dark . Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon . Tribe follows tribe , and nation follows nation like the waves of the sea . It is the order of nature , and regret is useless . Your time of decay may be distant , but it will surely come , for even the white man whose God walked and talked with him as friend with friend , cannot be exempt from the common destiny . We may be brothers after all . We will see . And when the Last Red Man shall have perished , these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe , and when your children ' s children think themselves alone , they will not be alone . At night when you think your cities are deserted , they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land . The White Man will never be alone . Let him be just and deal kindly with my people , for the dead are not powerless.


Your Introduction: Be sure to include any necessary background and setting for your discussion.  For this prompt, you should set the discussion up with the circumstances surrounding the speech as a response by Chief Seattle to the U.S. government’s intention to take his peoples’ lands from them and move them onto reservations.  This background will help your reader to understand your analysis.  This selection has no formal title, but be sure to include any title and author’s name in the introduction, carefully underlining or using quotation marks where necessary for those titles.


About Your Thesis:  Try to give yourself three support points to address when you write the thesis.  It is not absolutely necessary, but it is advisable, to use the technical writing terms that are given to you in the prompt.


Sample introduction:

In an artfully organized speech to Gov. Stevens, Chief Seattle issues a diplomatic but chilling warning to the American president, who is planning to seize the chief’s tribal lands and move his people onto reservations.  The chief uses figuratively language and a philosophical tone to persuade the president to treat the tribal people well.


Your Diction and Tone:

Remember that you are writing in the 3rd person only.  You will not be giving adoring compliments about any of the writing, but you may comment on the careful organization, artful organization.  It would not be appropriate to say that this is a good speech, though we might all agree that it is one of the best we have heard.  Your job is discuss the writer’s strategies, not compliment him on his work.


Your level of care for this essay:

Remember that the scorers are looking for an essay which addresses the prompt fully (Chief Seattle’s purpose and his rhetorical strategies for accomplishing that purpose).  They will also be looking for a well organized discussion:


Introduction with Thesis

Support paragraph: Use of figurative language, all relating to nature

Support paragraph: Organization…..friendly to historical to somewhat threatening

Support paragraph: Diction…use of the 3rd person to keep a formal, diplomatic tone

Conclusion (not a repetitive copy of your introduction!)


The scorers will possibly give you a “qualified” score with a few minor errors in spelling or form, but you should proofread your essay, making corrections as possible, and being sure it is neatly written (at least neatly enough to allow the scorers to read your handwriting).


Sample Conclusion: Though Seattle addresses the president as a father, the chief’s speech has the tone of a fatherly historian, teaching his younger, possibly rash brother about the perils of the action is about to undertake.  The chief is giving a friendly, but strong warning about how the white man will suffer if he treats the red man badly.


 [BR1]Analyze purpose first!  Be sure that you include a statement of his purpose in your thesis statement.

 [BR2]The bold and underlined words in the next sentence are the strategies to consider and discuss.

 [BR3]Figurative language will be highlighted in pink in the speech.  Your thesis should use these technical terms (figurative language, simile, or metaphor)

 [BR4]Organization: The chief begins in a very conciliatory tone, even offering compliments (“this is kind of him”) and acknowledging that he is powerless to resist the U.S. Government (“we know he has little need of our friendship….my people are few.”  He then gives a diplomatic history lesson when he notes that all civilizations will decline eventually, subtly suggesting that the white man consider that his time will come, too, and implying that this inevitable doom should make the white man more sensitive to the plight of the red man.  Finally, he issues an outright warning, that the dead of his tribe will linger on in America after all the red men have died off, that these spirits are not powerless to affect the living.  If they can “guide, console, and comfort” the living red men, as he has earlier noted, they might also be able to distract, threaten, and dismay” the living white men.

 [BR5]Diction: the author’s choice of words that creates tone, attitude, and style, as well as meaning.  This might include his choice of 1st, 2nd or 3rd person.  Seattle has kept his discussion fairly formal in the 3rd person, and this makes the speech more like a political or diplomatic address than a personal plea to the President. 

 [BR6]Tone: the author’s attitude toward his subject.

 [BR7]Personification.  The chief treats nature as a living entity.  The overarching  sky watches over his people continuously for centuries, all their time of existence. He contrasts the changing nature of the sky with his words, which are as reliable as the stars in the heavens (simile… like the stars).

 [BR8]Another simile….like the grass……The grass springs up quickly with the slightest encouragement from a bit of rain.  It covers the landscape, much more plentiful that trees, which may have been there a much longer time.

 [BR9]Night is a metaphor for the end of their good lives (day).  The sun is going down on the time when they lived well on the plains.  The metaphor is extended with the image of a starless sky (with the stars representing light, hope).