Tinas Martin


Regular readers will understand that the Chinook Jargon word siwash migrated into Pacific Northwest regional English, with mostly distressing results.

Today I’m sharing an 1898 local-colour piece from the Boundary Country of British Columbia, where a fairly well-known Indigenous man is characterized by the above word.

It’s not flattering.  That’s your trigger warning.

This “Tinas” Martin was otherwise known as Tenas Martin.  A member of the Sinixt (Lakes) Salish tribe (which explains his border-straddling existence; read about these people’s plight), Martin died the following year, still young.  This happened while he was crossing the Okanogan (Okanagan) River near Osoyoos Lake with Mary Smith — the estranged, and widowed, and strategically chosen Indigenous first wife of early white settler Hiram “Okanogan” Smith.

Tenas Martin is listed as an Indian policeman at the Colville agency on the American side about the time of his demise.  He was remembered as “sickly”, perhaps a contributing factor to his eponymous small stature, bur he was also respected by his people as a chief.

Given these facts, I can imagine the following events had a different meaning to Native witnesses and that this article’s smattering of Chinook Jargon is more for white people’s amusement than for journalistic accuracy:

Imagined He Was the Whole Celebration

     Tinas Martin, a siwash from the
reservation near Midway, visited the
city yesterday. Tinas in the classic  
Chinook is a diminutive. Everything
went smoothly for Little Martin until
the baseball match was about over,
when Tinas got the idea that he was
the whole celebration and proceeded
to make a triumphal procession of him-
self and his cayuse on the ball grounds.
Just as the procession gave indications
of being a success, Officers Gardom
and Lawder scooped the siwash in.

— The Boundary Creek (BC) Times, July 2, 1898, page 11, column 3