Celilo Indian delegation, 1868

cellilo indians

The best photo I could find of Celilo Indians not fishing (image credit: Ghosts of Celilo)

Here’s an early reservation-era document of a diplomatic visit by Warm Springs and/or Umatilla Indians to Oregon’s governor, showing how they parried each other with this language.

I’m fascinated with how well the Governor and the newspaper reporter understood these Native people’s words and intentions, and respected them but insisted that the White man’s way must be followed. The phrase “siwash governor” is also revealing, for what it tells us of the way tribes’ relationship with the US was conceptualized.

Indian delegation 1

INDIAN DELEGATION. Last week a delegation of the Celilo Indians [Columbia River Sahaptins] visited this city, and passed through to Salem, returning on Wednesday. The Record furnishes an account of their doings while at the capital. It seems that they visited the Penitentiary, and found one of their tribe at work there, expiating the gentlemanly crime of horse stealing. They pretended a very ingenious surprise at their discovery, but the Record suspects that they knew of his whereabouts and went there in hopes to ameliorate his condition. They applied to Governor [George Lemuel] Woods [1832-1890] for executive clemency, but the Governor concluded it was best to let the aboriginee [sic] finish his apprenticeship to the art of brickmaking. The wa-wa [‘conversation’] is thus described:  

indian delegation 2

Entering the Executive Chamber they took seats. A rotund and portly savage, who unoubtedly is a big gun, but did not claim to be a chief, took the floor and discoursed in his native dialects — one of his company translating into “Chinook.” The portly tillicum [‘person; friend’] was eloquent, and his gestures were elegant and striking. They had come to see the white man’s country, and were delighted to find it was a “hyas closh illahee.” [‘Very good place.’] The earth had abundant products that the siwash [‘Indian’] would delight to eat; birds filled the air; horses, cattle and sheep roamed over prairie and hillside. Their country was no comparison, and the white man had forgotten to pay them for it. They had seen the houses and lands of the “Bostons;” [‘Americans’] they had discovered they had good “tumtums;” [‘hearts’] and their own “tumtums” were also in splendid tune toward us. They had seen the Governor, and they were glad. So the “orating” red man paused in the midst of a striking and poetic gesture, and sat spell bound waiting for a reply.

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Gov. Woods is an orator by nature; he speaks well in the President’s English, but his command of Chinook surpasses it. In glowing words of that decidedly mixed dialect, he acknowledge the honor done him. He confessed that we had a good country and “hyu ictas;” [‘many possessions’] that we all worked hard for them and got them that way, and in persuasive tones, and with nice tact, he told them to do lots of work and they would have lots of “ictas” also — and every Indian grunted assent. With a wave of his hand, the Governor told the braves they had the floor again. 

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The red man went back to by-gone time, and said he knew this country before we did him the honor to come here — he did indeed. He was glad we had come — he was indeed. It was true the white men had bought his land, and it was rather a pity they had forgotten to pay for it, and he rather thought they had better have kept the land and retailed it out on their own hook. He recited, with pathos, the white men’s promises. The hats, caps and shoes, the coats, vests and pants, calico and cotton shirts, neckties, ribbons and gimcracks, the blankets and bed-quilts stipulated for, but not received. And then, with remarkable complaisance he insinuated that no doubt the Governor could give all these things, and send a full suit to their “tyee[‘chief’] besides. 

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As a wind-up, the Governor said he was chief only of the “Boston tillicums,” but that he was glad to see the brave red men from beyond Celilo. Mr. [John Webster Perit] Huntington [1831-1869] was the “siwash” Governor, and they knew him well. 

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We have heard of aboriginal eloqu[e]nce, but we thought we realized it as the old fellow recited the list of dry goods due them from Uncle Samuel. There was earnestness of sound, and gestures that were indicative of every article described. The red men complained that they were tired and weary of travel, and could not the Governor give them a paper that would take them down the river on a steamboat? Whether they got a pass from the P.T. Co. [People’s Transportation Company] or no, we have not learned — but they deserved it, and we doubt if any Indian delegation has been to Salem in a long time that has put on more style than these nameless ones from Celilo who have just visited their suffering comrade in the penitentiary.

— from the Oregon City (OR) Enterprise of July 18, 1868, page 2, column 3

What do you think?

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