Adams had the song name for a couple of years, but had trouble finding a lyrical theme to go with the title. It was Vallance's friend Duris Maxwell (who is of Native American heritage), who suggested Chief Joseph. Vallance recalled on his website
: "I went to the Vancouver library and read everything I could find on Joseph, which turned out to be a truly fascinating story. I wrote a page of notes at the library, most of it direct quotes from Joseph's speeches. With a little modification those notes became the basis for the song."