Belgians & Chinook


(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Also worth a look, especially on a Sunday:

Kevin A. Codd’s 2007 Theology dissertation “A Favored Portion of the Vineyard: A Study of the American College Missionaries on the North Pacific Coast” (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven).

In it, there is a good deal of discussion of these Belgian Catholic missionaries’ use of Chinuk Wawa.

I’ve found that a lot of historical sources confuse the Pacific Northwest missionaries from northwestern France, especially  Brittany, with those from Belgium. This dissertation will help you to understand that those were two pretty distinct groups. The French/Bretons played a big role in BC, and left lots of Chinook Jargon traces that we often discuss on this website. Many of them attended the Oblate order’s “scholasticate” (priestly training school) in Liège, Belgium, which is an understandable reason for confusing their nationality.

The Belgians (mostly Flemish), who were trained at the American College seminary in Leuven/Louvain, are less well-known to us, as a rule. They seem to have had a somewhat different “culture” or typical way of going about being missionaries — surely relating to their participation in a distinct web of social connections since I understand their college to have not been part of any particular “order” within the church, unlike the Oblates, who took vows of poverty and typically made do in extremely humble lifelong circumstances. (Although a number of American College grads served under the Oblate-associated Modeste Demers, in the Northwest.) For whatever reason, my impression is that they placed less reliance on the Jargon than the French Oblates did.

A highly notable exception is Adrien Croquet/Crockett of Grand Ronde in Oregon, who arrived in Oregon very early in the reservation period (1859) and is well remembered for his embrace of Chinuk Wawa. (Grand Ronde scholars will find quite a number of primary and secondary sources about Croquet cited in this dissertation that will be new to them.) We might suspect that he, in that environment where the Jargon was uniquely becoming the community’s mother tongue, felt more strongly compelled to make use of this language than did his Louvain peers.

Many of those missionaries also preached in the Jargon, but did not to my knowledge leave many documents of it. This in my experience circumstantially suggests an approach of using Chinuk Wawa only as much and as long as was absolutely necessary — quite likely never overcoming the widespread White prejudice against it as a supposedly inadequate vehicle. And it’s significant that a number of these same priests went on to become important leaders of the White settler Catholic community, so that they would have cared much more about having a respectable command of English than of Jargon. Certainly the few “Louvanists” who spent their entire professional lives in the humble status of Indian missionaries are singled out as remarkable in Codd’s dissertation.

Among the key Jargon-using personalities I’ve found to acquaint myself with via this dissertation are:

  • Charles John Seghers, who was trained by the better-known Father Demers (formerly of Fort Vancouver) at Victoria from late 1863; he became bishop of Vancouver Island
  • John Baptist Brondel, who arrived at Fort Vancouver at the end of October 1866; he became a bishop of Vancouver Island and then of Helena, Montana
  • Augustin(e) or August Joseph Brabant, who spent his career among the Nuuchahnulth people of Vancouver Island’s west coast, 1869 onward (look here for books by and about him)
  • John Nicholas Lemmens, who reached Victoria in the summer of 1876 and was trained by Seghers; he became yet another bishop of Vancouver Island
  • Bertrand or Bertram Orth, who came to Oregon in 1872 and became archbishop of Victoria

In this light, it almost looks as if early skill with Chinuk Wawa became a valuable item in an American College alumnus’s résumé, helping propel him to the more prestigious White-oriented positions in the church. Kind of parallel with the social feather-in-the-cap that Jargon fluency represented among the pioneers (the first settlers, I mean) of our region.

So there are useful and interesting points to be learned here, to give us a firmer understanding of how Jargon was used in the history of contact between Native people and European religion.

As with any dissertation, the author of this one would surely be grateful if you’d give it a skim!