Priest house


Chief David Johnson, Esk’et/Alkali Lake Reserve (northern Secwepemc territory), BC, said in an interview:

We had an old log building back here before, that’s where we used to feed the priests…that’s what they call the priest’s house–that one over there.

He was interviewed by Margaret North Whitehead on June 7, 1979.   He was born 1895; you can see him at centre in this photo of Native cowboys:

David Johnson

Listening to the interview, I heard this as

priest house.

It made me think.

In one of the shorthand Chinook Wawa letters written by a Secwepemc right around 1900, there’s an expression that’s hard to make out.  The letter writer is telling of an elder’s inspiring death while praying, Christian fashion.  Apparently the old man was found kneeling in [what looks to be written in shorthand as] the

pros haws.

This was in another northern Secwepemc village, as I recall, Canoe Creek.

The haws part is easy because it’s in every dialect of the Jargon.  But whichever way I’ve looked at the whole phrase over the years, my best guess has been that it was “cross house”.  It brought to mind a covered bridge or a shrine.

Having left the puzzle be for a while, it came to me while listening to David Johnson that the writer may have intended “priest house”.  That’s not a crazy hypothesis since the Chinook of that greater Kamloops region had quite a lot of recent English loans in it.

Could “priest house”, like “fish house” for a cannery (in my recent blog post), be a newly discovered Chinook Wawa phrase?