Linguistic archaeology: Treaty language (Point No Point), part 2

hoko river mouth

“Oke-ho” (Hoko) river mouth (image credit:

More linguistic archaeology, reconstructing some Chinuk Wawa treaty language.

(back to Part 1)

I’ll probably have to specify many times that nobody claims any of the Northwest Indian treaties had official Chinuk Wawa wording, the way that we presume the written English versions are considered “the true story”.

The Jargon was barely and rarely a written language in the treaty era, which makes sense because virtually no Native people could yet read and write; the closest it came to having authoritative written norms was after Father Le Jeune of Kamloops introduced the popular shorthand-based Chinuk pipa writing in the 1890’s.

Instead, this was a 100% oral language. What we’re reconstructing here, as a consequence, is how the treaty articles were “read out and explained” to Indian negotiators in Chinook Jargon, as we routinely are told in eyewitness accounts.

My approach, starting with yesterday’s look at the Point No Point Treaty’s preamble, is to translate as closely as possible the English treaty language. Countless substantial issues of translation will emerge, despite my efforts to replicate the official document. A specific point of terminology: we know that Native people were spoken to, and in turn spoke, in terms of “the Great Father” (the president) when the subject was their dealings with the US Government. I incorporate that phrase (as bástən háyásh papá, ‘the American Great Father’) here.

There is virtually no doubt that the translators on the scene, such as Col. Mike Simmons and Benjamin Shaw, needed to elaborate further on the concepts involved; we have plenty of clues to that effect as well. The reasons for that need were mentioned in yesterday’s post, having to do with the unfamiliarity of Native people with White legal concepts, with differences in cultural outlook, and so on.

Even just thinking about the names of people and places mentioned in the treaties, which were often rendered pretty poorly by the English alphabet and may not have been universally recognized, should give us pause. For one thing, a Native person’s name typically changed throughout their life, and once switched out for another (or once the person died), a name might be subject to cultural restrictions on being mentioned. For another, Whites might call a certain stream “the Oke-ho River”, but that was likely to mean no more than that Whites knew of (say) an Indian village called “Oke-ho” somewhere along it, or of (say) a person who the Whites called “Oke-ho” who lived near it. Not to mention, “Straits of [Juan de] Fuca” may have been rather puzzling to Indigenous ears!

We can justifiably describe the official English text of these treaties as the Settler government talking to itself.

With these points in mind, why don’t you have a read of Article 1 from the Point No Point Treaty, and let me know what thoughts you have. I think you’ll easily spot what I take as a serious mistake in the treaty language…!

úkuk íxt íkta ɬáska wáwa
this one thing they talk
‘The first thing they talked about.’

The said tribes and bands of Indians hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the
úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam álta pus kwánsəm ɬáska pá(t)lach kʰapa
these Indian-people now for always they give to
‘These Indian people now (and) for ever give to’

United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country
bástən háyás(h) papá kʰánawi ílihi
American big father all land
‘the American great father all the land’

occupied by them, bounded and described as follows, viz:
ɬáska míɬayt, yakwá yaka ním kákwa ɬáska mamuk-t’sə́m Ø kʰapa nánich-ílihi-pipa:
they have, here its name like they make-mark it on look-land paper:
‘that they have, here is what it is called as it is marked on a map:’

Commencing at the mouth of the Okeho River, on the
pus chxí másh < Okeho > tsə́qw yaka lapúsh kʰapa sáltsəqw bástən-tílixam ɬáska
if newly leaving < Okeho > water its mouth at saltwater American-people they
‘if starting to leave the Okeho River’s mouth onto the saltwater that the Americans’

Straits of Fuca; thence southeastwardly
mamuk-ním < Straits of Fuca >; álta kúli kʰapa qʰá sán míɬayt íləp kʰapa sítkum-sán,
make-name < Straits of Fuca >; then travel to where sun be.located before from middle-day,
‘call the Straits of Fuca; then traveling toward where the sun is in the morning,’ 

along the westerly [SIC!?] line of territory claimed by the Makah tribe of 
wik-sayá kʰapa < Makah > tílixam ɬaska ílihi,
not-far from < Makah > people their land,
‘next to the Makah people’s territory,’

Indians to the summit of the
pi q’úʔ kʰapa íləp-sáx̣ali lamətáy kʰapa úkuk
and arrive at most-high mountain in those
‘and arriving at the highest mountain among those’

Cascade Range; thence still southeastwardly and southerly along said
háyú lamətáy bástən-tílixam mamuk-nim < Cascade Range >; pi álta wə́x̣t kúli kʰánawi
many mountain American-people make-name < Cascade Range >; and then more traveling all
‘many mountains the Americans call the Cascade Range; and then again traveling all along’

summit to the head of the west branch of the Satsop River,
sáx̣ali-lamətáy pi q’úʔ kʰapa qʰá chxí-cháku < Satsop > tsə́qw qʰá t’ɬíp sán,

top-mountain and arriving at where newly-come < Satsop > water where sink sun,
‘the mountain tops until arriving at where the Satsop river springs up in the west,’

down that branch to the main fork; thence
pi ɬátwa kíkwəli úkuk tənəs-tsə́qw pi t’ɬáp háyás(h) tsə́qw; pi álta kúli
and go down that little-water and reach big water; and then traveling
‘and going down that stream to the main river; and then traveling’

eastwardly and following the line of lands
kʰapa qʰá sán cháku, pi kwánsəm wik-sayá kʰapa úkuk ílihi
to where sun come, and always not-far from that land
‘toward where the sun rises, staying near that land’

heretofore ceded to the United States by the Nisqually and other tribes and
< Nisqually > tílixam pi x̣lúyma s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska pá(t)lach kʰapa bástən
< Nisqually > people and other Indian-people they give to American
‘that the Nisqually people and other Indian people are giving to the American’

bands of Indians, to the summit of the
háyás(h) papá, pi q’úʔ kʰapa íləp-sáx̣ali lamətáy kʰapa ukuk
big father, and arriving at most-high mountain in those
‘great father, and arriving at the highest mountain among those’

Black Hills, and
háyú lamətáy bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním < Black Hills >, pi álta
many mountain American-people they make-call < Black Hills >, and then
‘many mountains that the Americans call the Black Hills, and then’

northeastwardly to the portage
kúli kʰapa qʰá sán wik-sayá gitə́p pi q’úʔ kʰapa úkuk ílihi qʰá tílixam lúlu kəním ínatay,
traveling to where sun not-far rise and arriving at that place where people carry canoe across,
‘traveling toward where the sun is before dawn and arriving at that place where people carry canoes across’

known as Wilkes’ Portage; thence 
bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním < Wilkes’ Portage >; pi álta
American-people they make-name < Wilkes’ Portage >; and then
‘which the Americans call Wilkes’ Portage; and then’

northeastwardly, and following the line of lands heretofore ceded to the United
wə́x̣t kúli kʰapa qʰá sán wik-sayá gitə́p, pi kwánsəm wik-sayá kʰapa úkuk ílihi
more traveling to where sun not-far rise, and always not-far from that land
‘again traveling toward where the sun is before dawn, staying near that land’

States by the Dwamish, Suquamish,
< Dwamish > pi < Suquamish > tílixam
< Dwamish > and < Suquamish > people
‘that the Dwamish and Suquamish people’

and other tribes and bands of Indians, to
pi x̣lúyma s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska pá(t)lach kʰapa bástən háyás(h) papá, pi q’úʔ kʰapa
and other Indian-people they give to American big father, and arriving at
‘and other Indian people are giving to the American great father, and arriving at’

Suquamish Head; thence
ílihi bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním < Suquamish Head >, pi álta kúli
place American-people they make-name < Suquamish Head >, and then traveling
‘the place the Americans call Suquamish Head, and then traveling’ 

northerly through Admiralty Inlet 
úkuk sáltsəqw bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním < Admiralty Inlet >
that saltwater American-people they make-name < Admiralty Inlet >
‘along that saltwater the Americans call Admiralty Inlet’

to the
ɬátwa kʰapa sítkum-púlakʰli-ílihi kʰapa úkuk háyás(h) sáltsəqw bástən-tílixam ɬáska
going to middle-night-land on that big saltwater American-people they
‘going toward the north on that big saltwater the Americans’

Straits of Fuca; thence 
mamuk-ním < Straits of Fuca >, wik-sayá kʰapa kinchóch-ílihi; pi álta
make-name < Straits of Fuca >, not-far from English-land; and then
‘call the Straits of Fuca, near Canadian territory; and then’

westwardly through said straits to the
kúli úkuk sáltsəqw, ɬátwa kʰapa qʰá sán chaku-t’ɬíp, pi cháku k’ílapay kʰapa
traveling that saltwater, go to where sun become-sink, and come-return at
‘traveling along that saltwater, going toward where the sun sinks, and coming back to’

place of beginning; including all the right, title, and interest of the
< Okeho > tsə́qw yaka lapúsh; pi álta wik-qʰánchi(x̣) wə́x̣t áɬqi
< Okeho > water its mouth; and then not more in.the.future
‘the Okeho River’s mouth; and now never again will’

said tribes and bands to any land in the Territory of Washington.
úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska míɬayt íkta ílihi kʰapa úkuk < Territory of Washington >.
these Indian-people they have any.kind land in this < Territory of Washington >.
‘these Indian people have any kind of land in this Territory of Washington.’

Again quite laborious in many ways. For the compass directions, established terms for which were lacking because orientation to watercourses had hitherto been the most important factor in giving directions, I’m using references to sunrise, noon, and sunset, as well as ‘midnight place’. Later Chinuk Wawa dialects such as Kamloops used ‘north’, ‘south’, etc., but we are looking at a generation earlier than that right now.

Makah traditional lands

(Image credit: Pinterest)

What do you do when you find a mistake in a treaty? That “westerly” up there referring to Makah tribal boundaries ought to say “easterly”! Maybe this is just someone’s misreading of the original handwritten treaty, or maybe someone really did foul up the compass point in the original. In the latter case, you could claim that this Point No Point Treaty has the neighboring tribes giving away the Makah’s land. An extremely serious situation, that would be.  It would really conflict with the Treaty of Neah Bay that was concluded several days later.