Talking about Christmas: “They weren’t angry, they just chewed on me”

Alkali Lake IR

(Image credit:

Yesterday I showed you the Christmas tag, now let’s open the whole package…

Another unpublished letter from Father Thomas to Father Le Jeune in Chinook Writing. There is a lot to learn here:

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

Kopa naika tlus papa Pir L Shyun ukuk pipa < X > [1]
This letter is to my dear father Pere Le Jeune. 

< 9 > Fibrwari < 1909 > 
9 February 1909

Alta naika mash pipa kopa maika < X > Naika tiki paiii naika cho bun [2] kopa 
Now I’m sending a letter to you. I want to pay my debt for 
naika almanak < 2 > tala < $2,00 > < X > 
my almanacs, 2 dollars, $2.00. 

Tanas lili alta [3] naika tlap maika pipa < X > Ukuk pipa iaka wawa kopa 
A little while ago I got your letter. That letter talked about 
Knim Lik Sam iaka cho bun < X > Lili ilo naika nanis iaka < X > 
Canim Lake Sam’s debt. I haven’t seen him in a long time. 
Naika tiki klatwa iawa pus Krismash pi klaska tu lit pus 
I wanted to go there to spend Christmas but they were too late to 
chako iskom naika < X > Kopa iht mimlus man klaska tu lit < X > Ol Pol 
come fetch me. Because of a dead man they were too late. Old Paul 
iaka mimlus pi iaka tanas iaka mitlait saia tanas saia kopa 
had died and his kid lives way off near 
<Clear water> < X > Klaska wit < 10 – 12 > son pi klaska mash [Ø] [4] 
Clearwater. They waited 10-12 days before they buried [him] 
kopa ilihi < X > Nawitka ayu kol pi wiht ilo naika tiki pus klaska wit 
in the ground. Indeed it’s been very cold but still I didn’t want them to wait 
lili kakwa pus mash iht man kopa ilihi < X > Naika wit iht son 
so long to bury a man. I waited a day 
pi sitkom pi naika mamuk tiligram kopa Soda Krik tilikom 
and a half, then I telegraphed to the Soda Creek people 
pus wawa pus naika Krismash kopa klaska ilihi < X > Kimta Knim Lik 
to say that I’d spend Christmas at their village. Afterwards the Canim Lake 
tilikom chako iskom naika pi klaska tu lit pi naika sitkom 
people came to fetch me but they were too late although I was fairly 
tlus tomtom pus mamuk skul klaska kopa tlus oihat [5]
happy to teach them about the right path 
pi kakwa naika ilo Krismash kopa klaska ilihi < X > Klunas ilo 
and so I didn’t wind up spending Christmas at their village. It’ll be probably 
< 2 > wiks pi naika taim pus klaska chako iskom naika pi iawa 
less than 2 weeks till my time for them to come get me and then 
naika nanis Sam pi alki naika wawa kopa iaka kopa ukuk < X > 
I’ll see Sam and I’ll talk to him about this. 
Kopa ukuk iaka cho bun kopa maika liplit (?) < X > 
About this debt of his to you, the priest (?). 

Klaska ilo saliks pus naika ilo klatwa Krismash kopa klaska 
They weren’t angry for me to not go spend Christmas at their 
ilihi < X > Klaska komtaks pus klaska cipi < X > Wiht tanas sik 
village. They knew they’d messed up. Still, a bit of hard  
tomtom < X > Klaska mash pipa tlus pipa kopa naika pi klaska  
feelings. They sent a letter, a  good letter, to me, and they 
sitkom makmak [6] naika pus ilo aiak naika patlach ⊕ kopa 
chewed on me for not going ahead and giving communion to 
klaska < X > Klaska ilo komtaks ikta pus komtaks ikta ilo ayu 
them. They don’t know anything, if (they) know a thing, (they) don’t much 
komtaks [Ø] < X > Tanas ankati Imil [7] iaka mimlus pi klaska ilo mitlait 
understand (it). A while back, Emile died so then they didn’t have 
klaksta pus skul klaska < X > Pi kopa ukuk pipa klaska sitkom 
anyone to teach them. And in that letter they verged on 
kaltash wawa kopa maika < X > Sam iaka wawa pus 
insulting you. Sam said that 
maika wawa kopa klaska pus klaska klatwa kopa maika aiak maika 
you’d told them if they go to you you’ll immediately 
patlach ⊕ kopa klaska < X > Pi Sam iaka latit (?) [8] iht iht taim 
give communion to them. So then Sam is the cause (?), sometimes  
iaka wawa iht pi iht iht taim wiht iaka wawa iht < X > 
he says one thing and some other times he says another thing. 

Wiht Alkalai Lik tilikom klaska kaltash wawa kopa kikuli [9]
Also the Alkali Lake people are talking trash about the downriver 
tilikom klaska liplit < X > Klaska wawa pus kaltash pus klaska 
people’s priest. They’re saying it must be no big deal if people 
lahal likart [10] . – – Liplit iaka patlach ⊕ kopa klaska 
play stickgame (and) cards. – – The priest gave communion to them 
pi kakwa alta tanas ayu tilikom iawa klaska pli kard < X > 
and so now a number of the people there are playing cards. 
“Ukuk klaska nanis…!!!” [11] Naika komtaks ikta ukuk … < X > Kanawi 
“That’s what they see…!!!” I know what this is… Every-
kah tanas ankati, Sawash ayu wawa kopa klaska < trouble > [12] 
where recently, the Indians were talking about their trouble 
kanamokst tikop man pi iht iht man klatwa kopa < Clinton 
with the White people and several men visited Clinton, 
Bonaparte et Kamloops > – – – Pi iawa Sawash [13] 
Bonaparte, and Kamloops – – – And the Indians there 
klunas klaska ciicim tanas ikta kopa klaska pi pus kilapai klaska 
must have told a little something to them and when coming back they 
mamuk ilip (?) aias [Ø] < X > 
exaggerated it. 

Kaltash naika ciicim ukuk kopa maika < X > Alkalai Lik tilikom wiht 
I’m idly telling this to you. The Alkali Lake people also 
klaska ilo drit kopa klaska tanas mitlait kopa skul [14] < X > Ukuk iaka 
aren’t (feeling) right about their kids being in the school. This is 
iht aias latit pus sik tomtom mitlait kopa klaska < X > 
a big reason for there being bad feelings among them. 

< X > Iakwa nsaika ilo komtaks – – – Klaksta alki shyuif (?) [15] kopa 
Here we don’t know – – – Who will be the Jew (?) to 
nsaika < X > ST komtaks < X > Klunas wik saia nsaika komtaks < X > 
us? God knows. Maybe soon we’ll know. 

Naika tlus < X > Drit ayu kol iakwa ilihi < X > Ayu 
I’m well. It’s really very cold (in) this place. So 
kol kopa naika kuli < X > Pi naika tilikom kanawi kah 
cold for my travels. But my people everywhere 
naika kuli drit drit tlus nanis kopa naika pi kakwa naika ayu 
I go really really take good care of me, and so I get a lot of 
mamuk kopa klaska < X > Pi kakwa naika ilo mimlus < X > 
work done with them. And so I haven’t died. 

Poto < X > Tlus kwanisim maika styuil 
Goodbye. Please keep praying 
pus hilp kopa naika < X > 
to help me. 

Naika maika tlus tilikom < X > 
I’m your good friend 

Pir Toma < X> 
Pere Thomas


[1] Notice the classic Chinuk Wawa word order for an intransitive sentence: literally, ‘To my dear father Pere Le Jeune is this letter.’

[2] cho bun ‘credit; debt’ is from slang English ‘jawbone’.

[3] tanas lili alta ‘a little while ago’ reverses time by combining tanas lili ‘for/in a little while’ with alta ‘now’, the latter word being the normal way to express ‘ago’.

[4] The “null pronoun”, which generally applies to inanimate objects, here references the deceased person’s body.

[5] oihat ‘path, road’ is frequently used in this metaphorical way — your ‘way of living’.

[6] sitkom makmak is literally ‘half eat’. It feels to me similar here to the English metaphor of ‘chewing someone out’ when you’re upset with them. I don’t think this occurrence is a use of the more metaphorical sense of makmak, ‘to envy’.

[7] Imil is chief Emile Timaskrit, a major Chinook Writer and teacher in his community.

[8] latit is literally ‘head’, but is used quite a lot in a metaphorical sense as ‘the reason why, the cause of’ in the Kamloops region. It occurs again in this same letter. Another non-literal sense of latit is ‘head of, leader of, person in charge’, often encountered in the phrase latit kopa Chinuk pipa, ‘the Chinook Writing leader’ of this or that village.

[9] kikuli is literally ‘below, low’ but it has this very common sense ‘downriver’ in the Kamloops region. The river in this case would be the Fraser.

[10] lahal likart ‘(playing) slahal (and) cards’ is an example of the common practice of grouping related terms together without using pi ‘and’.

[11] “Ukuk klaska nanis!!!” ‘That’s what they see!!!’ — maybe this is a biblical reference, or comes from a commonly used phrase. I don’t know a specific source. It’s a perfectly clear expression in any case.

[12] < trouble >, which I put in angled brackets because it’s in regular English spelling rather than Chinook Writing in the letter, is quite likely a word used in regional Chinuk Wawa, as I argued for freight and express the other day.

[13] iawa gets plenty of use in Kamloops-region Chinook. It’s literally ‘(over) there’, but I feel its most frequent occurrence is in expressing ‘(and) then’. Here it’s an adjective, so iawa Sawash means ‘the Indians of there; the Indians of that place’.

[14] The school spoken of is surely the Williams Lake residential school.

[15] shyuif is somewhat hard to make out in the letter — again, Father Thomas’s handwriting would win none of those coveted “shorthand medals” that the Native people were often awarded. The context of a letter between two Catholic priests circa 1900 discussing racial (and religious) tensions makes a reading as French juif ‘Jew’ at least somewhat plausible, and a heck of an interesting metaphor. Various words for Jews occur in Kamloops Wawa‘s world, including this one.