“He’s certainly smart…he doesn’t do a thing”

cariboo indian residential school williams lake 1949

Cariboo Indian Residential School, Williams Lake BC (image credit: Library and Archives Canada)

Mundane but gossipy, this unpublished letter in Chinook Writing from one priest to another is a nice little read to practice on:

< William’s Lake Industrial School > 
< 150 Mile House, B.C. >

Kopa naika tlus papa Pir L Shyun
To my dear father Pere Le Jeune

< 14 > Fibrwari < 1914 >
14 February 1914

    Naika tlus tomtom pus wiht naika mash pipa kopa maika < X > Tlus pus maika
I’m happy to again be sending a letter to you. Please

mash kopa naika < 12 > Shushwap buk katishism buk < by 
send me 12 Shuswap book, catechisms, by

mail > < X > Wiht pus alki maika tlap ukuk tlus
mail. Also if you eventually get that nice

ilip tlus aias katishism buk kopa tikop man klaska
excellent large catechism in White people’s

wawa < 68 > aias piktyur tlus pus maika mash < 12 > kopa 
language, 68 big illustrations, if you’d send 12 to

naika < X > Ilip tlus pus maika mash ukuk < 12 > buk aias buk
me. It’s best if you send those 12 books, the big books,

kopa iht boks pi pus klaksta tlap < chance > klatwa kopa 
in a box and if someone gets the chance to go to

< Ashberg > mash ukuk boks kopa ko (?) < [ILLEGIBLE] > < c/o C.H. 
Ashberg (Ashcroft, BC?) send that box to [ILLEGIBLE] c/o C.H.

Smith > < X >

     Alta naika ayu mamuk < X > Drit naika tlap tlus tomtom kopa 
     Currently I have lots of work. I’ve gotten quite encouraged with

naika Sawash < X > Ilo naika nanich iht (?) Alkalai Lik Sawash 
my Indians. I haven’t seen a single (?) Alkali Lake Indian

pi Kanu Krik Sawash < X > Klunas klaska tanas tlus alki naika
or Canoe Creek Indian. Maybe they’re doing a bit better; eventually I’ll

komtaks < X > Naika kwash pus ukuk ilihi [1] ankati ayu wawa kanawi 
know. I’m afraid that [the people of] this place used to keep saying all

Shushwap Sawash iaka mamuk tanas kaltash klaska latit 
the Shuswap Indians were getting their heads a bit messed up,

ukuk Alkalai Lik pi Kanu Krik Sawash < X >
these Alkali Lake and Canoe Creek Indians.

     Kopa iakwa Pir Matin (?) [2] iaka mitlait iaka tlus < X > Nawitka iaka 
     Up here Pere Martin (?) is staying, he’s all right. He’s certainly

smart < X > Iaka komtaks pus wik saia [3] Pir < B >… [4] iaka kilapai 
smart. He knows that Pere B… is coming back soon,

kakwa iaka ilo mamuk ikta klunas iaka mamuk hohoi (?) pus Pir < B > 
so he doesn’t do a thing, maybe he’ll be a replacement if Pere B

ilo kilapai 
doesn’t return. 

     Tlus pus kwanisim maika tanas styuil kopa naika
Keep sparing a prayer for me


               Maika tilikom
Your friend 

                    Pir Toma 
Pere Thomas 

< X > Wiliams Lik Mison < X >
Williams Lake Mission


[1] ukuk ilihi — literally ‘this place’ — seems to be used in this sentence to mean ‘the people here’. This is a known idiomatic way of talking in Kamloops-region Chinook Jargon. Among other examples, I’ve seen Klinton used to refer to ‘the people of Clinton, BC’.

[2] ‘Pere Martin’: perhaps A. Martin or A. Madden, who are known in association with Vancouver BC a few years before this letter’s date.

[3] wik saia — literally ‘not far’ — normally means ‘almost’, and sometimes is used in its literal meaning, but here the sense ‘soon’ is one that’s more typical of White speakers.

[4] ‘Pere B…’: H. Boening? C. Bellot? G. Blanchet? All are priests who I know to have been associated with Williams Lake Mission at the start of the 20th century.