Conversations with Khatsahlano

august jack khatsahlano

(Image credit: Vancouver Sun)

For an amazing document of late frontier life around Vancouver, BC, as known by a Skwxwú7mesh elder, I say you simply can’t top this book.

You may be familiar with the name Kitsilano as a section of Vancouver. It comes from August Jack Khatsahlano‘s hereditary name. The man himself left a mark on local history, being an important source of deep knowledge about early Vancouver and traditional life. It’s no coincidence that Chinuk Wawa is very much involved.

All of this is luckily documented in a book whose full title deserves reproducing here: “Conversations with Khatsahlano, 1932-1954: Conversations with August Jack Khatsahlano, born at Snauq, False Creek Indian Reserve, circa 1877, son of Khaytulk and grandson of Chief Khahtsahlanogh”, compiled by Major S.J. Matthews, V.D., City Archivist, City Hall Vancouver [BC]. 1955. I have a favorable impression of Matthews’ sincerity and attentiveness in listening to AJK; he comes across as careful of mind.

The numerous paintings, diagrams, and maps by AJK, augmented by plenty of photographs, make this a wonderful book to leaf through. The sections where AJK’s own exact words are preserved show a fluently expressive second-language speaker with some of the pidginlike patterns typical of his era and place; some influence from Chinook Jargon on his English is detectible.

Emphases in the quotations below, as usual, are supplied by yours truly.

AJK remembers “potlachs” being given in Stanley Park circa 1881, before Vancouver was named. (page 3 [I’m using the page numbers at the bottom of each leaf, not the different ones at the top–DDR])

15th March, 1937.

“No cemetery; no graveyard; just come in boat with
the deadmans; climb the bank, dig a hole”. (He
refers to Brockton Point in later days, but, in
his Indian speech, converts the English plural
deadmen into deadmans, and tells of how his father
Khaytulk was buried in a “deadhouse”, a small
wooden mausoleum, the body lying in a small canoe
inside the “deadhouse”, at the end of the Pipe-
line Road, First Narrows.)

From the whole, I deduce that, conversation between
Indiana and pioneer whites, being carried on largely in
Chinook, would include reference to the island; that the
Squamish referred to it as “memaloos Siwash illahie”, “village
of the dead houses on the island”, and that whitemen would,
unconsciously, interpret the expression to mean “Island where
the dead are”, i. e., Deadman’s Island”, or


(page 123)

“Deadhouse” sure looks like a localism that has a high chance of being derived from the Jargon. More about this:

Thos. P. Wicks, i. e. “Skookum Tom”, pioneer of early 1880’s,
who speaks Chinook, says, Oct. 14th, 1939: “It
really should be memaloos, and illahee, memaloos
means “dead”; illahee is the little house of two
slabs over the dead laid on the ground; I suppose
it could be interpeted “Village of the Indian dead”;
there was a lot of the little “houses” or shelters
over the dead body; altogether.”

Rev. C. M. Tate:

…”Oh, that was the deadhouse; the Indians all along
the coast used them, for putting the dead in; some
of the deadhouses were quite pretentious.” (page 243)

Another brief note of Deadman’s Island is on page 244, where the Indians are said to have called it Memelous Siwash Ille (ill-lee)” [Dead Indian Place]. That parenthesized pronunciation guidance is interesting for its resemblance to the characteristic Grand Ronde íliʔi rather than “illahee”.

I’m mentioning this next person because of her connection with someone who had a characteristic type of name that was associated with Chinook Jargon in BC, a “number name” Ixt Joe:

Mrs. James Walker , eldest daughter of Joseph Silvey, “Portugese [sic]
Joe, No. 1” of Gastown… (page 243)

On a Chinook Jargon loanword into local English; one lesson I read in the following is AJK using humour in defiance of ignorance:

THE WORD “SIWASH” The epithet “Siwash“, i.e., sauvage, the
French for savage, is highly resented by
most Squamish Indians, and always has been.

he feels no resentment.

Sept. 4th. 1942.

In conversation with Mrs. Masie Armitage-Moore, over the phone
today, she told me of a conversation she had just had with that
fine Indian, August Jack Khahtsahlano , in the honor of whose
grandfather Kitsilano is named.

Mrs. Armitage-Moore: “What do you think
August has just told me. He says that when whitemen
call him Siwash, or he hears other Indians called by
that name, he does not feel hurt.”

“He says that when the wind is in the tree
tops that it sighs (i.e. ‘Si’), and that when the waves
dash on the shores it washes (i.e., ‘wash’); hence,
Siwash’. Don’t you think that a pretty story?” (page 137)

On the subject, this novel etymology and critique thereof is very good too:

From “AMONG THE AN-KO-ME-NUMS” by the Rev. Thomas
Crosby. 1907 . Copy in City Archives. Page 10:

“The Coast Indians are spoken of, generally, as
Siwashes, a term which the more intelligent resent, and which
is taken from the word “Indian” in the Chinook or trade jargon.”

“There is some doubt, however, as to the origin of the
word “Siwash“. By some it is thought to be a corruption of
the French word “Sauvage” (barbarian) as applied to the Indians
by the Northwesters generally. But, in all probability, it is
a corruption of the generic term “Salish”, which is given by
ethnologists to the whole family”.

(With which reasoning I am in entire disagree-
ment. It’s just “savage” changed to suit.)

J.S. Matthews (page 159)

One of the early settlers who is interviewed in this book is the Reverend C.M. Tate, a major figure in Chinuk Wawa history; here it’s nice to learn in so many words that he was the author of the anonymous book “St Mark’s Kloosh Yiem”:

The Rev. Mr. Tate was a guest of the
City of Vancouver on July 1st, 1932, at the opening
of the splendid Burrard Bridge which passes directly
over Snauq, the Indian village where formerly he
preached in the Indian potlatch house. He was a
somewhat prolific writer. His works include “Our
Indian Missions in British Columbia,” published by
the Methodist Church in Toronto; translated the Gospel
of St. Mark into an Indian language [Chinuk Wawa], published a book
of Hymns in Indian tongue [multiple languages including Chinuk Wawa], and a Dictionary of Chinook
Jargon. Now over 80, he is a tall venerable gentleman
of clear complexion, white hair, stately carriage, and
kindly bearing. J.S.M. (pages 193-194)

Here is a little more about Tate:


…Rev. Charles Montgomery Tate. Methodist Indian Missionary,
arrived B.C. 1870, first saw Granville 1873, assisted
dedication first (Indian) church at Granville, 1876;
translator of Gospel of St. Mark into Indian tongue;
author “Dictionary of Chinook Jargon, 1914”; also
book of Hymns in Indian tongue; probably the foremost
living authority on the practical speaking of Indian
languages. (page 235)

There’s so much more to be learned from this fine book. I’ve shared the tiniest slice of it with you today…