Seattle: Day in Court for Indians, 1899

indians day in court cartoon

From a pretty racist newspaper article, let’s excerpt just its cartoon and one paragraph.

This was a court case over a Settler selling alcohol to Indigenous people in the Bellingham, Washington area.

indians day in court

On benches scattered about the building the husky braves, almost invariably clothed in the garb of civilization, more or less dilapidated it is true, but set off by some ornament of gilt or tinself dear to the savage heart, lounged, and lazily inhaled the smoke of the villainous cigarette of civilization, conversing among themselves in the guttural Chinook jargon.

— from the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer of December 7, 1899, page 6, columns 1-2

That single sentence invites a lot of questions.

Why would these Native people need to be chatting in Chinuk Wawa with each other, if they were all Salish people of far northwest Washington? I’d think they’d understand each other’s Nooksack and/or Straits Salish and/or Halq’emeylem.

Did the reporter understand what they were saying?

Did the reporter misidentify the language? The Jargon has been called “guttural” from time to time in history, but I sense that that was usually done by those who didn’t know it well. Maybe the reporter was really giving a vague description of Salish, which has more ejectives, glottals, and such “gutturals”.

Did the reporter not notice the Indians testifying in Chinuk Wawa, which with near 100% certainty, they did as witnesses in this case? He’s awfully busy filling his article with sideline gossip from White people.

What do you think?