Nika memloose, mine memloose

slumach's gol

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Louis Slumach (Slum.ook, Slumah, Sumah) of Katzie First Nation, a Sto:lo band in British Columbia, is at the centre of another Chinuk Wawa-related urban legend.

In a nutshell, at some point after Slumach’s hanging for killing another man, a rumour emerged that he had had knowledge of a significant gold-ore deposit in the Pitt Lake area.

I won’t go further into the swirling and — wouldn’t you know — mutually contradictory accounts behind that tale.

But I’m going to reproduce a short Chinook Jargon phrase famously attributed to Slumach in the ever-popular folk genre of “an Indian curse“:

Nika memloose, mine memloose.

Those words actually seem to have come to us not from Slumach’s lips, but from August Jack Khatsahlano’s telling, 60 years after the execution. Hmm. Khatsahlano spoke Jargon well, but intervening decades always create room for doubt.

Here is what one team of researchers have to say about the meaning of that sentence:

nika memloose mine memloose

In the matter of the curse, [R.W. “Rob”] Nicholson courts controversy with a different interpretation. He suggests the translation of Slumach’s legendary “Nika memloose, mine memloose” is “No man who finds the gold will live long enough to bring it out.” This is much longer than the “When I die, mine dies” translation usually offered. We sought input on this discrepancy from First Nations people who know the languages involved. Their analysis: Chinook jargon contains similar words. “Nika-i” means “my” or “mine”. “Memloose” means “to die” or “dead”. The word “mine” was judged to be an English reference to the mine. Thus, “When I die, mine dies” appears to be correct.

— from “Slumach’s Gold” by Rick Antonson, Mary Trainer, and Brian Antonson (Surrey, BC: Heritage House, 2007)

I feel these authors are on just the right track. Two corrections, for precision of analysis:

  • The Chinuk Wawa word for “my” or “mine [i.e. first-person singular possessive pronoun]”, here spelled nika, also means “I”. This book’s supposed form nika-i shows somebody mistranscribing from their own notes of the meaning of nika.
  • And mine, meaning the place where you extract minerals, was in fact a Chinook Jargon word, borrowed from English. We find it from Slumach’s Indigenous contemporaries in 1890s BC, in the Kamloops area’s “Chinook writing”.

So Khatsahalano’s telling of Slumach’s supposed words is perfectly plausible, from a merely linguistic point of view.

About the rest of the historical evidence, I leave it to you to examine the huge amount of literature and media devoted to this urban legend of Slumach’s gold.

What do you think?