The Nez Perce Indians, picking hops north of 49

nez perce indians

Remembering several years up to 1912, a BC Okanagan Settler reminisces about Nez Perce tribal people who would come up from the Colville Indian Reservation to pick hops in the Vernon area.

E.V. de Lautour’s article “The Nez Perce Indians” appeared in the “Fourteenth Report of the Okanagan Historical Society” in 1950.

This local settler knew the Wawa well, as seen in his other contributions to the same periodical.

He makes clear that Chinuk Wawa was an extremely important asset for interethnic communication in the post-frontier setting he’s recollecting, as the multilingual Nez Perces nonetheless avoided English:

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pages 110-111

At first they were very uncommunicative and pretended they could not talk English. You would ask a question in English and the Chief would say, “Halo Kumtucks Boston-man wau-wau hyas Kloshe mika wau-wau Chinook.” [‘Don’t understand White-man talk(;) very good (i.e. better) you speak Chinook.’] They talked to the Shuswaps, Nicolas, Thompsons and the Coast Indians in the same jargon — though they used “the Moses” [Salish] talk to the local Okanagans. Chinook was quite OK for us, as almost everyone used it more or less in those days, even the Chinaman.

De Lautour attributes Jargon sentiments to these Indians from the American side:

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pages 112-113

Those from Nespelem [on the Colville Rez] definitely came for several reasons: They “Hyiu tikki King George illahie“. [‘Much liked Canada.’] They were “skookum tum-tum[‘felt favorably’] about “King George men[‘Canadians’] whom they considered an honest people. The old leaders considered “Boston-man hyiu cultas[‘Americans very worthless’] because he had not played the game after these unconquered people had made a treaty with some general [Gov. Isaac Stevens] who evidently had no power or ability and whose lies had never, even now, been forgiven.

When visiting Nespelem for the 4th of July celebrations, the author noted a couple of Jargon-related contest names, “< Hal-a-Hal > games” (slahal/stickgame) and “Klooch races”, a regional English term for women’s — usually Indigenous women’s — racing of any kind, be it with horses, canoes, or running.

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page 114

Just how important Chinook Jargon was for relations between the Nez Perces and the hop ranchers shows in this anecdote:

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pages 114-115

Getting these people up to Vernon sometimes caused a funny situation. For instance, on one occasion, it was necessary to send an inexperienced man to the Boundary to check them in. The young man sent knew little of trails, nor could he talk Chinook. I think the young braves had lots of fun at his expense. He was a very nice chap, but very, very helpless. 

The advantages of both understanding and speaking good Jargon are highlighted on the following page:

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page 116

After their first year or two [picking hops there], Charlie Simms, the manager in Vernon, used to get blankets and stroud by the bale, ordered from Glasgow by boat via Victoria. He would take the order before the Indians went home, for delivery the next season. Charlie knew they wanted good material and that none could be too high class for these cash customers. And we must not forget that Charlie could also tell all kinds of stories in Chinook to keep his customers in a good humour, as he well knew that an Indian who was “skookum tum-tum” was a good spender.

The author ends his article with a note that he’s used the spellings found in T.N. Hibben’s Chinook Jargon dictionary, and defines the Jargon words he’s used.

What have you learned?