Back-translating Pacific Northwest Indian treaties is a revealing exercise; here’s more, and stay tuned for when I get into the Native people’s comments on it…

(Back to: Part 1Part 2; Part 3)

Today, on to Article 3 regarding “removal” to the reservation just proposed:

úkuk ɬún íkta ɬáska wáwa
this three thing they talk

‘The third thing that was discussed.’


The said tribes and bands agree to remove to and settle upon the said
úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska wáwa nawítka áɬqi ɬáska másh ɬaska ánqati ílihi pus
these Indian-people they say indeed later they leave their previous land so.that
‘These Indian people say indeed they will leave their old places to’

ɬáska míɬayt kʰapa kwánisəm kʰapa úkuk
they stay for always on that
‘live always at that’

reservation within one year after the ratification of this treaty, or sooner if the
chxí s(h)áwásh-ílihi, pi ɬáska kʰapit-mámuk kákwa kʰapa úkuk kʰúl qʰánchi(x̣) bástən
new Indian-land, and they finish-do thus in that winter when American
‘new Indian land, and they will be done doing that in the year when the American’

háyás(h)-papá yáka wáwa ɬúsh úkuk pípa, pi íləp-(h)áyáq ɬáska ɬátwa yawá pus
big-father he say good this paper, and more-quickly they go there if
‘great father  says this paper is good, and they will go there faster if’

means are furnished them. In the mean time, it shall be lawful for them to
bástən háyás(h)-papá yáka mamuk-yéʔlan ɬáska kákwa. pi pus álta, ɬúsh pus ɬáska
American big-father he make-help them thus. and for now, good if they
‘the American great father helps them do it, and for now, they can’

reside upon any lands not in the actual claim or occupation of citizens of the
míɬayt kʰapa íkta ílihi qʰá bástən-tílixam hílu míɬayt pi hílu bástən-tílixam wáwa pus
be.located on any land where American-people not be.located and not American-people say that
‘be on any land where there are no Americans and no Americans say that’

ɬáska tíki míɬayt Ø,
they want have it,
‘they want to have it,’

United States, and upon any land claimed or occupied, if with the permission of
pi wə́x̣t ɬúsh pus úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam míɬayt kʰapa íkta ílihi bástən-tílixam míɬayt,
and also good if these Indian-people be.located on any land American-people have,
‘and these Indian people can also be on any land that Americans have,’

pus yáka wáwa dlét ɬúsh kákwa,
if he say really good thus,
‘if they say it is actually all right,’

the owner.
úkuk bástən-tílixam.
that American-people.
‘those Americans.’

How many of those English words & expressions do you reckon never appeared in any Chinook Jargon dictionary? “The said”, “ratification”, and so on…

And then you have to consider that some of these words might be found in one of those old dictionaries, but only in other senses. “Within” might show up as < kopa > in a Jargon dictionary, but that would mean ‘in the interior of’, not this sense of ‘less than or equal to’.

Now let me blow your mind, and leave you to meditate. There just weren’t very many dictionaries of Chinuk Wawa readily available at the 1855 date of this treaty. Extremely few had been published as freestanding volumes, one or two more vocabularies had been circulated in newspapers, and those who had thought to write down their personal knowledge of the language sometimes shared those notes with acquaintances. But all in all, there were very few written authorities to appeal to in the thankless task of transforming government English to the Jargon.

So the White treaty translators were essentially left to their own devices to catch the meanings behind the fancy words coming from the US government side. Equally daunting: imagine the burden on the Native side’s translators, dealing with tribal languages they knew perfectly well but having no background in White legal conventions to help rendering their leaders’ messages in a sufficiently clear Chinook Jargon to be taken seriously by the Americans.

There had to be linguistic frustrations all around.