Ogopogo in Chinook Jargon


(Image credit: Paranormal Papers)

Among the odder themes that recur when you’re a scholar of Chinook Jargon: cryptids.

Dangerous beings — skookums / skukúm — keep appearing.

I have a paper on where that Jargon word came from. It’s evidently Salish for “inland people”, with the connotation of Stick Indians / stík sáwásh. (For many Pacific Northwesterners, those are a specific kind of skukúm.)

And you’ve got your t’siyátkʰu, which some equate with Bigfoot or Sasquatch.

Now I find Ogopogo, the “sea monster” of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, being strongly connecte with Chinuk Wawa.

Just to lay down a little groundwork, let’s establish that the name Ogopogo traces back to a 1920s popular British music-hall song “The Ogo-Pogo: The Funny Fox-Trot“. (“His mother was a polliwog / His father was a whale”, or variations on that idea.) Assuming the video I’ve embedded above is displaying properly, you can listen to a version of that tune by a famous swing band my folks liked.

But there was a much older Native understanding that, like many bodies of water in our region, this large lake was home to a spiritually powerful creature. In the locally spoken Okanagan-Colville Salish that’s nx̣aʔx̣ʔítkʷ ‘whale, water monster’ (n-x̣aʔ-x̣ʔ-ítkʷ ‘in-{important-important}-water’, literally ‘sacred thing in the water’), also written in various sources as N’ha-a-it-a-ka , NAITAKA , Naaitka.

Now a book, excellent in its genre, brings another language into this kettle of fish.

Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology by George M. Eberhart (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, 2002) lists several more synonyms. Look at these ones:

  • Hayash-hayash kust skaka kupa lake (“huge animal in the lake”)
    háyásh(-)háyásh k̓ást sqáx̣aʔ kʰapa léyk
    big, big bad animal in lake
  • Ukuk masachi kupa lake (“wicked one in the lake”)
    úkuk mas(h)áchi kʰapa léyk
    that bad.thing in lake
  • Yakaqansen stop
    yáka kwánsəm stóp
    it always be.there

Where do these recognizably local-dialect Chinuk Wawa names come from? I say they’re local because (A) they use some spellings you won’t find in well-known sources and (B) they contain loanwords from both Salish (k̓ást, sqáx̣aʔ) and English (lake) that are characteristic of southern interior BC.

(You might notice that I parenthesize the hyphen in háyásh(-)háyásh ‘big, big’; this is a linguist’s way of indicating doubt that that’s a “truly” reduplicated form like we find as part of Jargon grammar at Grand Ronde.)

I’ve found no better guess than that Eberhart took these names from one of the several locally-written books and news articles that he cites as sources.

This is a good reason for me to make a summer weekend trip from Spokane just across the border to BC, both to check out the waters from the miles of beaches up there, and to look through the shelves of a good local library.