SUQUAMISH, Wash. - Chief Seattle's grave was damaged early this month in what authorities characterize as a hate crime. Apparent motivation behind the act was a proposed low-income housing development for tribal members.
Tribal leaders say the 3-foot marble cross atop the grave was knocked over and broken into three pieces and a news story regarding the proposed housing development was left at the scene. Tribal police say this is no coincidence.
Reports say a Suquamish elder was visiting the gravesite, located near a shopping district on Puget Sound, May 4 and discovered the wreckage. Police investigators say they have not established a specific time or date of the vandalism. Tribal police confirm they called in the FBI to assist in the investigation.
The proposed development is a hot topic of debate in the area.
Local non-tribal members have complained that the 24-home, 14-acre "Angeline Project" development will bring increased traffic and storm runoff to the area.
Construction is slated to begin this summer. In recent weeks debate flared with extensive coverage in local newspapers.
The Suquamish reside on the Port Madison Reservation about a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, the city named for the famous leader.
Ivy Cheney, elder liaison for the tribe, said the elders are saddened by the incident. She said there are many memories surrounding the grave site as it is a focal point for many tribal ceremonies, especially the annual Chief Seattle Days in August.
"We are shocked to see that someone would damage the grave of one of our most beloved and respected elders, a great man who meant so much to our tribe," Cheney said.
"In the last few days I've seen about every emotion here you can think of," tribal member Scott Crowell said. "Every emotion ranging from being furious, to shock to being irate to disbelief. It's just terrible."
Crowell said police are holding the individual pieces of the broken headstone. The tribe has contacted a marble company to see if the 90-year-old memorial can be repaired. If not, Crowell says the tribe will have to have a replacement made.
Chief Seattle, or Sealth as he is known to the Suquamish, was a 19th century Suquamish leader widely revered by both whites and American Indians. His speeches regarding the environment have become standard gospel to modern-day environmentalists and his sayings have been reprinted in several languages worldwide.
Before his death at 80, in 1866, Chief Seattle was widely respected in the Puget Sound region by not only other American Indian tribes, but white settlers as well. Still he held steadfastly to his tribe's age-old beliefs and refused to sell Suquamish land to the United States government.
In a famous speech he pondered the impossibility of the land belonging to any human.
If the suspects are apprehended, the charge will be enhanced by Washington state's hate crime law, which could add additional jail time and increased fines to the individual or individuals involved in the crime.