Indian shorthand writers (1911)

The writer of this piece about Kamloops Wawa‘s culture of written Chinook Jargon claims to have been on the scene, but she’s noticeably cribbing from the article I shared yesterday 🙂

Found in a progressive publication, The Southern Workman, volume XL, number 8 (August 1911), pages 480-485:

Indian shorthand writers 1



PROBABLY the only real Indian shorthand writers in the world are those belonging to the Kamloops and Douglas River [Lake] bands living in the interior of British Columbia. Over two thousand of these natives have mastered the art of shorthand: they contribute and subscribe to a shorthand newspaper, called the Kamloops Wawa, and regularly read all the news pertaining to the tribe and to individuals in this curious journal. Bible hymns and prayer books are likewise printed in this sign language. The writer, who has recently returned from this region, was able to obtain a series of characteristic photographs, together with some interesting information in regard to these little known and remarkable Indian people.

This extraordinary development in Indian culture was brought about through the efforts of a French missionary, Father Le Jeune, sent out from Brittany a few years ago. Kamloops, the headquarters of Missionary Le Jeune, is some three hundred miles northeast of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, across the river from the main Indian village or rancherie and a few miles above it. Here the natives congregate in large numbers at certain seasons, for this is an important center of Indian life for from fifty to one hundred miles around. The occupations of these people are hunting, fishing, ranching, and farming on a limited scale. Prior to the appearance of the missionary, the fraudulent shamans — who pretend to cure disease, and claim, by aid of supernatural or magic powers, to be able to ward off evil spirits and prevent sickness — completely held the people in their superstitious and powerful grasp. Besides hindering their progress in religious matters, they obtained considerable property from the people by their misleading influence. These so-called magical prophets fled at the coming of the French pastor, who fully exposed their tricks and their false creed to the Indians.

Before Father Le Jeune began his educational work the tribes of this locality, living in the canyons and along the banks of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, in British Columbia, were unable to write their language and had no written literature, although each

Indian shorthand writers 2

[photo caption:]
In the rear of the church is the room where the shorthand newspaper is prepared.

Indian shorthand writers 3[photo caption:]
From the Kamloops Wawa

Indian shorthand writers 4[photo caption:]
From the Kamloops Wawa

Indian shorthand writers 5possessed a language preserved by oral tradition, which had an extensive mythology. To-day, nearly all these different tribes, some half-dozen or more, are writing letters to one another in their several languages, and reading a newspaper, Bibles, and song books, all by means of shorthand.

Pastor Le Jeune found that to be successful in his mission, it would be absolutely necessary to devise a system of communication. After working out an Indian vocabulary in shorthand signs, containing nearly all the words commonly employed in everyday usage, the pastor, in the early fall, when the village was thickly populated, first showed and explained his system to one of the bright Indian boys. He took to it intuitively and set to work to decipher some Indian prayers which the pastor gave him. Before a few months had passed he had pretty thoroughly learned the art of writing his language, and being pleased with his rapid success, he set to work at once to instruct his friends. The new “talk language” created widespread interest and the Indians were all eager to learn it. Soon the adult as well as the young members of each tribe for miles around were engaged in practising the new method of communication.

A glimpse into one of their homes at night might have shown these Indians (who live in wigwams made of poles covered with mats, in birch bark dwellings, or in log cabins) eagerly learning shorthand which they were extremely anxious that the whole community should know. Consequently Pastor Le Jeune taught a few in each village and left it to them to teach their neighbors. They made rather slow progress in the summer time, owing to the fact that they were away at work, ranching and picking berries; but in the winter, when they returned home, they devoted whole nights to study, and in this way made excellent progress and soon became proficient. Shorthand, Le Jeune claims, is many times simpler than English orthography.

After about five hundred of the Indians had mastered this system, it became necessary that their interest be retained by placing reading matter before them, and thus was one of the purposes of Missionary Le Jeune realized, for he wished them to be able to read the Bible as well as other religious books. His task was to provide this literature printed in the characters of his system. Not satisfied with teaching his Indian parishioners to write letters in their own language by means of shorthand, and to read a paper in their native tongue, he had various parts of the Bible published in the nine different languages spoken by the several tribes in this region, using the shorthand method, and is still laboring on additional publications.

Indian shorthand writers 6In this way prayers, hymns, parts of the Bible, and the church ritual have been published.

The focus of all religious and intellectual activities, and the place of pilgrimage from long distances by land and river, is the church. This structure, a white frame one similar to those to be found in the villages of eastern Canada and the United States, was built by the Indians and presented to their beloved pastor. They have also made him a present of a carriage and team to enable him to make his visits to far-off villages. The church has a cheerful interior, with comfortable pews. The hymn and prayer books, however, whose pages are full of the curious shorthand symbols, seem very strange to the white visitor. Father Le Jeune preaches in several native dialects of the country, especially Chinook, the ordinary trade language used by the whites and the different Indian tribes throughout much of British Columbia, Alaska, and the northwestern coast of the United States. On church and feast days the whole community attends the services. The church is well lighted by acetylene gas, and illustrated stereopticon lectures are frequently given by the pastor.

In the rear of the church is the editorial room where Father Le Jeune gets out his quaint shorthand paper. This journal has sixteen pages, about the size of the average book, devoted to church and local information. Wawa is the word for talk in the Chinook jargon, hence it was chosen for the name of the Indian newspaper. The paper was printed on a mimeograph for the first year, but after this Father Le Jeune succeeded in having type made for it and in getting it printed on one of the presses of the nearest city. A full page of this unique publication, here reproduced, shows the curious shorthand symbols used in the church service. Several years ago the Passion Play was enacted here by the Indians under the direction of their pastor. They are very proud of their performance and speak of the event with great satisfaction. Father Le Jeune’s queer Wawa and his band of Indian shorthand writers, make a novel and interesting picture of progressive Indian life.

The above is pretty directly plagiarized from the article I reproduced yesterday, but it’s not without its interest. For example I think it’s noteworthy how far from Kamloops various publications were telling with interest about Le Jeune’s community work. And today’s article includes more images of the Kamloops Wawa itself, making it visually much more interesting.