Happy late Victoria Day from a Secwepemc girl

[Serendipity!  Updated 7/20/2016 when I discovered a clearer copy of her letter, with a French translation backing it up, in the next issue of Kamloops Wawa.]

victoria 1897

From an Indigenous girl in 1897:

     Kopa nsaika* aias taii kwin Viktoria,
To our great leader Queen Victoria, 

nsaika* kolan pus <60> sno alta maika taii
we hear that it has been 60 years that you are a leader 

kopa nsaika; pi ankati pus maika chi* chako
to us; and back when you had just become 

taii, ilihi aias klahawiam, pi alta ilihi
leader, the country was in miserable shape, but now the country 

chako aias tlus kanawi kah [ILLEGIBLE] kakwa naika yutl
has improved a lot everywhere [ILLEGIBLE], so I have happy 

tomtom kopa maika. Naika wawa klahawiam kopa
feelings toward you.  I say goodbye to 

maika: naika nim Bici
you: my name is Betsy.

     God siv t kwin…
God save the queen…

Kamloops Wawa #157 (October 1897), page 152

[UPDATE: here is Father Le Jeune’s French-language news of the jubilee, with a clearer reproduction of its text and a translation out of the Chinuk Wawa.  Some added details make this even more fascinating now:

<A la Reine Victoria.>


     La ren Viktoria a dyu rsvwar de milie
Queen Victoria was sure to be receiving thousands 

e de milie d felisitasiõ o syuje d
and thousands of well-wishes on 

sõ jyubile. Jyuska no sovaj ki lyui ã
her jubilee.  Even our Indians who 

ãvwaier, dyun manier orijinal. Il frer*
sent her some, in an original fashion.  They made 

dã ekors* darbr*, dekuper a form d
on tree bark, cut into the shape of 

kart postal, ekriver də̃ kote ladres
postcards, wrote on one side the address 

d la ren Viktoria, avek ə̃ tĩbr post d
of Queen Victoria, with a postage stamp 

la mark dyu jyubile: [ILLEGIBLE] fe de tĩbr post
in the jubilee design: [ILLEGIBLE] made  

spesio a lokasiõ dyu jyubile d la ren.
special postage stamps on the occasion of the queen’s jubilee.  

     D lotr kote ils õ ekri:
On the other side they wrote: 


     “Naika taii kwin Viktoria, naika chako
My leader queen Victoria, I have 

komtaks pus taham tatilam sno ankati
learned that sixty years ago 

maika chako taii. Pi pus chi maika
you became the leader.  And when you had just 

chako taii, ilihi aias klahawiam, pi
become leader, the land was pitiful, but 

alta chako aias tlus kanawi kah ilihi.
now all the lands everywhere have improved a lot.  

Kakwa naika yutl tomtom kopa maika, pi naika
So I feel glad toward you, and I 

wawa klahawiam kopa maika. Naika nim Bici
say goodbye to you.  My name is Betsy 

God siv t kwin.”
God save the queen.”


     S ki və dir:
Which means: 


     “Madam la ren Viktoria, japrã kil i
Madame queen Victoria, I have learned that 

a mĩtnã swasãt ã dpyui k tyu e ren,
it’s now sixty years that you have been queen,  

e kã tyu a ete fet ren, il i a <60> ã
and when you were made queen, 60 years ago 

tu l mõd ete biĩ miserabl, tãdi k
the whole world was quite miserable, while 

mĩtnã il fləri d tut par. Se purkwa j
now it is blooming everywhere.  This is why I 

sã ərə avek twa e j t di bon
feel happy with you and I say to you happy 

fet, ren Viktoria. Mõ nõ e Beci.
anniversary, queen Victoria.  My name is Betsy.

     K Diə sov la ren.”
God save the queen.” 

Kamloops Wawa #158 (November 1897), page 166]

Whatever language this was originally written in — there’s a chance that Father Le Jeune translated it from English for his Kamloops Wawa readers — it’s quite the fascinating little historical document.

Like “Pit’s Winter“, this letter gives us a highly focused view on the enormous shifts then happening in Indigenous life.  Because Queen Victoria is said to have taken a special interest in the Indigenous people of her empire, I find it compelling to find some words from one of those people addressed to her.

The occasion was Victoria’s diamond jubilee; her 60 years on the throne made her the longest-reigning British monarch.

Here is a Chinook Jargon toast to another British queen.

Further research may pinpoint who Betsy was.  That was a common “name to the white man” in 1890s Indigenous communities of the Kamloops region, so I know of several candidate names from various issues of the newspaper that we might try relating to this writer:

  • Betsy McLeod (Kamloops), known as a Chinuk pipa expert
  • Betsy Wayi (Kamloops), “diploma” winner in a shorthand contest held in France
  • Betsy Joseph (Kamloops?), who corresponded with a nun in Denver, Colorado, USA

Important to understand: two or all three of these could be the same person.  In Native communities of the 1890s, a young woman was not only likely to carry her father’s or husband’s last name (e.g. McLeod or Wayi), but also to be known by a surname that was either of those men’s first name (e.g. Joseph).   In some cases a person, regardless of gender, was known by both, e.g. Joe Pete Saddleman.

There are also several Elizabeths documented in the Kamloops Wawa world, but since people seem to usually be referred to there just as they were known in daily life, I’ll stick with the Betsys today.

As far as mere words are concerned, today’s letter is neat also for showing us a new word, kwin for ‘queen’.  Some dictionaries have testified to a synonym like taii kluchmin (literally ‘chief woman, boss woman’), or (aias) kluchmin taii (literally ‘(big) woman chief’).  But in 1897 Kamloops Wawa was busy publishing a serial of “Our Lady of Lourdes”, which constantly talks about visions of a taii kluchmin “lady”.  So we see that kwin had a different meaning from that phrase.

Hip hip!