Oral history: remembering Chinuk pipa shorthand writing

Oral history reminiscences of Chinuk pipa (‘Chinook writing’, the endangered writing system associated with Chinook Jargon in southern interior British Columbia.
  • DOCUMENT NAME/INFORMANT: DAVID & CELESTINE JOHNSON #1
  • INFORMANT’S ADDRESS: ALKALI LAKE RESERVE BRITISH COLUMBIA
  • INTERVIEW LOCATION: ALKALI LAKE RESERVE BRITISH COLUMBIA
  • TRIBE/NATION:
  • LANGUAGE: ENGLISH
  • DATE OF INTERVIEW: JUNE 7, 1979
  • INTERVIEWER: MARGARET WHITEHEAD
  • INTERPRETER:
  • TRANSCRIBER: HEATHER YAWORSKI
  • SOURCE: PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
  • TAPE NUMBER: #IH-BC.84
  • DISK: TRANSCRIPT DISC #184
  • PAGES: 33
  • RESTRICTIONS: NO RELEASE FORM SIGNED.

HIGHLIGHTS:
– General reminiscences of their days at the Mission Indian Residential School.
– Mention early missionaries in the area.

CELESTINE JOHNSON (born 1899): Mrs. Johnson lives at Alkali
Lake Reserve in the Caribou. At the age of six, she was taken
to the Caribou Indian Residential School, known locally as the
Mission. (Interviewed by Margaret Whitehead, June 7, 1979.
PABC No. 3532.)

DAVID JOHNSON (born 1895): Like his wife Celestine, David
Johnson attended the Mission. In the 1940s, he was elected
chief of Alkali Lake. (Interviewed by Margaret Whitehead, June
7, 1979. PABC No. 3532.)

DAVID:  In the olden days, the parents they’re taught how to raise the Chinook, the Chinook language, what they call it, and that’s hard, very hard for the old Indians.  They kind of learned the alphabets, it’s different.  They weren’t writing altogether in Chinook.  Chicken scratch.  Chicken scratching all over.

CELESTINE:  (Inaudible).

DAVID:  Can’t hardly read it.  (laughs)

CELESTINE:  The Chief Simpson’s wife…

DAVID:  I know I can read that.

CELESTINE: You know that old woman, that Chief Simpson’s wife, my mother used to say, “Jesus, she knows all the Chinook.”

DAVID: Yeah.

CELESTINE: She really knows Chinook, how to read.  Must be easier for them to learn Chinook than to learn English.  (laughs)

DAVID: (Inaudible) Chinook writing.

CELESTINE: Yeah, it must be easier for…  Yes, them old people they never go to school.  Still she learned Chinook.  So Father Thomas must have been a good teacher.

MARGARET:  Yeah.  Somebody must have, yeah.

CELESTINE:  Yeah.  Yeah, that was the only woman my mother was telling me she could read and write Chinook.  Well, you see, just think about the school…

(END OF SIDE A)

(SIDE B)

MARGARET:  Oh, that was Bishop Duria [sic]?

DAVID: Yeah.  That’s in Kamloops, I guess. (inaudible)

MARGARET: And this is Chinook here on the other side?

DAVID: Chinook.  Yeah, that’s Chinook writing.  It’s written in there, Shuswap, wherever it is.

MARGARET: And your mother knew these prayers?

CELESTINE: Be some prayers. I don’t even know what you’re reading. (laughs)

DAVID: She doesn’t know Chinook at all.

CELESTINE: I don’t even know Chinook.

DAVID: It’s only me learned Chinook.

MARGARET: Oh, you know Chinook?

DAVID: Yeah, I’ve been raised ten, can read but not too good, but it’s pretty good. (laughs)

MARGARET: Did your mother teach you to learn Chinook?

DAVID: Eh?

MARGARET: Did your mother teach you Chinook?

DAVID: No. My mother, my mother died in 1913 and it was after that I started try [sic] to learn Chinook.

MARGARET: You must have learned it by yourself.

DAVID: Yeah, I just learned by myself.  I, my daddy must have been subscribing [sic] the Chinook papers from Kamloops and he had a lot of it; he had the whole alphabets.  He was listening to Chinook (inaudible).  He would be on top and Chinook letter would be under all that all, right through the set.  That’s the way I learn [sic].  Learned by myself.

MARGARET: Did you used to get that little newspaper called the “WA WA”?

DAVID: Yeah, it kind of looks “WA WA”.

MARGARET: And you used to read that?

DAVID: Yeah.  I just learned.  I learned that about [sic] quite a while and I gave up.  And after a while I took it up again, I say I might as well try to complete it.  But still I didn’t really complete, I get stuck some words.  I know our language, Shuswap.

MARGARET: So you know Shuswap and Chinook and English?

DAVID: Yeah.


There is mention of a ‘Father Capani’ later in the interview; this may be Chiappini.


MARGARET: When Father Thomas used to say the mass, you know, when he used to preach to you, did he used to preach to you in Shuswap?

DAVID: No.  He preach [sic] in Chinook.

MARGARET: In Chinook.

DAVID: Yeah, in Chinook.  There was one Indian here named Little Pete–that’s the one that he stay in there for Father Thomas.  Father Thomas speaks Chinook and he had to interpret into Shuswap.

MARGARET: Oh.

DAVID: Also Father Thomas can speak the Shuswap but doesn’t like to speak it, you know.

MARGARET: Oh, I see.

DAVID: He [sic] rather talk in Chinook.  He’s a French priest.  He had a brother [Oblate(s)] who were [sic] French.  I don’t know whether he was a priest too, I think.


There is also mention of “Father Lejac” at the end of the tape; this is Le Jacq.

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