The enduring influence of early-creolized Chinuk Wawa: a Cowlitz Tribe 1915 meeting


Cowlitz member Kaktsamah, 1912 (image credit: Gilleys Gallery)

Wonderful evidence of the lasting influence of early-creolized Chinuk Wawa in southwest Washington state…

We know that Chinook Jargon first creolized in that region (this was around Fort Vancouver, roughly 1830).

We’ve seen that it was a commonly recognized fact that folks in that area spoke primarily CJ (when Washington became a separate territory, delegates argued over whether these Métis should be allowed to vote, like English-speaking Whites).

Now we learn that the Jargon’s enormous influence persisted for decades to come, so that the Cowlitz Indian tribe conducted a 1915 meeting not in their historical Salish language, but primarily in Chinuk Wawa.

I find this so fascinating that I’m quoting the article in full:

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To select a delegate to represent them in Washington and to present their claim to the United States government in an effort to obtain a settlement for their lands such as has been made with other Indian tribes, the descendants of the Cowlitz tribe of Indians held a meeting in Chehalis Monday afternoon. The attendance of Indians was quite large and some of the discussions, which were had partly in the Chinook and partly in English, were interesting.

These Indians have never had a settlement of any kind with the government. At present they desire about $6,000 apiece so that each one may buy a home, as some of them are really in need. About 60 years ago Governor Isaac Stevens made a treaty with all the other tribes in the territory of which he was then the governor but none with this particular tribe. At various times this tribe has sent men to Washington in their interests and once they sent an attorney, but so far they have obtained no results. Therefore as some of their numbers have been given excellent educations and seem able to handle the affairs of their fellow tribesmen as well as themselves, they have decided that it would be wise to send one of their.own people at this time. 

As in the white men’s political caucuses, however, factionalism developed at the meeting.

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Peter Kalama (image credit: Find A Grave)


Peter Kalama who has been in the government service, aspired to represent his tribesmen at Washington, while another faction supported Frank Eyell [Iyall].


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Frank and Ida Iyall (image credit: Dignity Memorial)

The discussion grew hot and heavy during the afternoon, one of the remarkable features being the part taken by some of the female members of the tribe who displayed marked tendencies toward suffragetteism. Several of the women made forcible speeches in Chinook, as that jargon was understood by all present, while only about 25 or 30 spoke English. The liquor question also came out in their discussion, being used by the Eyell faction as an argument against Kalama, whose reputation as a hard drinker was said to weigh in the balance against his experience in the government service. Harmony was finally brought about by the election of both Eyell and Kalama to go to Washington and both will represent the tribe.

The faith of the tribe in the white man’s laws and promises, if ever they had any, has vanished, and they believe that when they send a white man to Washington to represent them he works for himself and not for them. It is not at all probable that the Indians will receive what they ask for, which is $6,000 for each member of the tribe over 21 years of age. .

The meeting Monday was presided over by the chief of the Yakima tribe. As congress will convene in October the collection of $25 from each member of the tribe to defray the expenses of the men who will go to Washington will not be made until September.

— from the Centralia (WA) Daily Hub of March 5, 1915, page 6, column 5

On a side note, who was that Yakama chief who evidently understood Chinuk Wawa so well?

What do you think?