1897, (New) Metlakatla: The Indians here wake cumtux chinook wahwah

metlakatla tsimshian wedding

Metlakatla, AK wedding circa 1900 (image credit: Wikipedia)

As the “Clondyke” mania raged, a well-prepared goldrusher incidentally stopping off at Metlakatla, Alaska was surprised Chinuk Wawa was useless there.

This illustrates how that Christian intentional community founded in 1887 was always a sort of gap in the Chinook Jargon map of the northern Pacific NW coast.

“New” Metlakatla, while fundamentally a place of Tsimshian identity and independence, was always about succeeding on Whites’ (specifically missionary William Duncan’s) own terms, whether religiously, economically, or linguistically.

Being active in the labor and cash economy, some folks there might indeed know Jargon — but they might not appreciate a stranger talking to them in it.

Here is the uniquely spelled cry from the heart of one who has labored to acquire Chinuk Wawa and gets a cold shoulder for it:


The Indians here “wake cumtux chinook wahwah,” so posting myself in that jargorn [SIC] is labor lost. They do not even known [SIC] what “clyhium six” means.

— from the Olympia (WA) Daily Capital Journal of August 4, 1897, page 1, column 5

That’s wík kə́mtəks chinúk-wáwa ‘don’t know Chinook talk’ and łax̣áyam s(h)íks(h) ‘hello friend’.

What have you learned?