Vancouver – False Creek: The true, inside story of the Kitsilano Reserve deal

The ever-popular “Chinook Jargon + shady politics” trope…

Stuff like the following true story is what gave rise to the Jargon’s reputation among some Indigenous people as “a language you can only tell lies in”. In this case I can imagine Skwxwú7mesh and Musqueam people feeling that way.

As usual, since the newspaper editor left the Chinuk Wawa untranslated, I’ll work to make its meaning & significance clear after you read this clipping about the controversial Kitsilano #6 a.k.a. False Creek a.k.a. Sen̓ákw Indian Reserve developments, which resulted in a swathe of traditional Aboriginal territory becoming a neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC:

kitsilano reserve

Now, understand this. It is the true, inside story of the Kitsilano reserve deal. Characters — [William John] Bowser, as acting premier; Hamilton Read, barrister, etc.; Cole a half-breed with a good money sense, and a handful of Indians who owned a great and wealthy tract of land upon which they lived and propagated. One of the natives told your correspondent in strict confidence as follows: 

Hyas Tyhee Bowser wahwah, “Closhe Siwash hyiu chickamin.”

Siwash wahwah, “Nanitch nika. Siwash halo iktas.”

Cole chahko wahwah okook tenas cultus potlatch. Nika Bowser nanitch. 

(Cole klatawa, Read chahko.) 

Siwash to Read: [“]Klahowya tillicum? Mitlite hyiu salmon kopa.”

Read: “Mamook illahie mah kook. Hy-iu chickamin.”

Siwash: “Nawitka nika mamook.” 

(Six moons halo chickamin, halo illahie, halo iktas.)Vancouver Sun.

— from the Grand Forks (BC) Sun and Kettle Valley Orchardist of March 17, 1916, page 4, column 2

Now a look into that Jargon; I’ve put asterisks on pronunciations that we should have any doubts about:

Hyas Tyhee Bowser wahwah, “Closhe Siwash hyiu chickamin.”
háyás-táyí Bowser wáwa, “łúsh sáwásh [Ø] [1] háyú chíkʰəmin.”
Big chief Bowser say, “Good Indian (have) much money.”
‘Premier Bowser said, “The Indians should have a lot of money.” ‘

Siwash wahwah, “Nanitch nika. Siwash halo iktas.”
sáwásh wáwa, “nánich náyka. sáwásh [Ø] hílu íkta-s.”
Indian say, “Look me. Indian (have) none thing-s.”
‘The Indian(s) said, “Look at me. The Indians have nothing.” ‘

Cole chahko wahwah okook tenas cultus potlatch. Nika Bowser nanitch.
Cole cháku wáwa [2] úkuk tenás* [3] kʰə́ltəs-pátlach [4]. náyka Bowser nánich [5].
Cole come say this little pointless give. I Bowser see.
‘Cole came to say, [“]Here’s a small gift. I’ll (go) see Bower.[“] ‘

(Cole klatawa, Read chahko.) 
(Cole łátwa, Read cháku.)
(Cole go, Read come.)
‘(Cole went, Read came.)’

Siwash to Read: [“]Klahowya tillicum? Mitlite hyiu salmon kopa.”
sáwásh ……………. : “łax̣áwya tílikam? [6] míłayt háyú sámən kupá* [7].”
Indian to Read: “Hello friend*? Exist much salmon there*.”
‘Indian to Read: “Hello friend. There are lots of salmon there.” ‘

Read: “Mamook illahie mah kook. Hy-iu chickamin.”
Read: “mámuk ílihi-mákuk [8]. háyú chíkʰəmin.”
Read: “Make land trade. Much money.”
‘Read: “(Let’s) make a trade for land, (for) a lot of money.” ‘

Siwash: “Nawitka nika mamook.”
sáwásh: “nawítka náyka mámuk [Ø] [9].”
Indian: “Indeed I make.”
‘Indian: “Okay, I’ll do it.” ‘

(Six moons halo chickamin, halo illahie, halo iktas.)
(síks [10] mún-s [11] hílu chíkʰəmin, hílu ílihi, hílu íkta-s.)
(Six month-s none money, none land, none thing-s.)
‘(It’s been six months (and) no money, no land, no goods.)’


sáwásh [1] háyú chíkʰəmin has a “null (that is, un-pronounced) form” of the word for ‘have’ (the possessive copula), and this was many people’s genuine Chinook Jargon usage back in the day. This usage occurs again in the next line with sáwásh hílu íkta-s.

cháku wáwa [2] — in case it’s helpful to point out, a way you can indicate a motion that’s for a purpose is to just put (motion verb) + (purpose verb) right next to each other, like this expression for ‘came to say’. You don’t have to use any word that corresponds to English ‘to’. However, if you like, you can — and that word would be pus, a.k.a. spose. Incidentally, we can notice how (as discussed in footnote 6 also) the punctuation of this published version isn’t all we might hope for; in this case, what I take as obviously quoted speech carries no quotation marks. 

tenás* [3]: it’s often hard to tell how someone pronounced < tenas > ‘little’ from the old written records, but the precious audio recordings that have survived of (late-) frontier-era Jargon speakers in the SW corner of BC and Puget Sound indicate a preference for “ten-áss” or “tuh-náss”. 

kʰə́ltəs-pátlach [4]: like the word “potlatch” itself, this noun phrase is most common as a loan into English. In Chinuk Wawa as spoken by non-Anglophones, I’ve had a very hard time finding evidence of pátlach being used as anything but a verb, ‘give’. So, here, we may have an Indigenous person accurately quoting a Settler, or else an intrusion of the news reporter’s own style of Jargoning. See my notes at footnote 8.

náyka Bowser nánich [5] — weird word order, eh? ‘I Bowser see.’ Seems like a detail that an English-speaking reporter wouldn’t be liable to invent. Local Salish influence? 

łax̣áwya tílikam? [6] — The punctuation suggests Anglophones’ persistent re-interpretation of the greeting < klahowya > as ‘How are you?’ (Which was intertwined with Settler mythology about this word having come from some Indian in 1805 asking, [William] Clark, how are you?”, or slightly later, “[Hudsons Bay Company] clerk, how are you?”) It’s funny to reflect on that idea. In all the Chinuk Wawa that I’ve ever heard spoken, nobody uses the rising question intonation with this word — to do so would sound (very strangely using its literal meaning) as if you were asking “Pitiful?” For another punctuation issue (they were very common in newspaper Chinuk Wawa of the time), see footnote 2. 

kupá* [7]: Following their native literate practices, stress was rarely indicated when English-speakers wrote Chinook Jargon down. But there’s various evidence, including this sentence, that the old distinction between kúpa ‘at, in, to, etc.’ and kupá ‘over there’ in Jargon survived the language’s migration northward from the lower Columbia. (While it’s less commonly pointed out in the old sources, we have the ‘there’ sense at least as early as Father Lionnet’s notes that were published in 1853.)

ílihi-mákuk [8] — This seeming noun use of mákuk ‘trade; buy; sell’ strikes me as parallel to English-speakers’ use of pátlach as ‘gift’. See my comments at footnote 4.

náyka mámuk [Ø] [9]: Here’s another, more frequent “null form” in Chinuk Wawa, the (inanimate) third-person pronoun. Learn to use it. It’s easy to pronounce 🙂 

síks [10]: This synonym for the “official” Jargon word ‘6’ is real. In a fine illustration of what I’m constantly pointing out about Chinuk Wawa’s vocabulary going through a bottleneck every time the language was taken to a new region — thereby squeezing out a bunch of older words — we often find in northern zones like BC that the numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 got replaced with newer loans from English. I’ve also found siks meaning ‘6’ (not the older ‘friend’, which got replaced by tilikom) in the Indigenous-written letters up around Kamloops. 

mún-s [11] — Here’s an additional example of the English noun plural suffix being added to a Jargon word, typically by English speakers, as we’ve also seen with this sentence’s < ikta-s > ‘goods; possessions; things’, and < tillicum-s > ‘friends’.

When I take all these observations together, I view today’s Chinook Jargon reading passage as influenced by the news reporter’s own habits — likely introduced as he wrote the quoted speech down from memory.

But that quoted speech appears genuine (reflecting two different styles of Jargon, the Anglophone and the Indigenous), and fluent.

This is a surprisingly substantial little historical document.

What do you think?
Kah-ta mi-ka tum-tum?