1889: Siletz Athabaskan Chinuk Wawa myth awaits your translation

We’ve known at least one myth told in Chinook Jargon by a Siletz Reservation Indian to linguistic anthropologist Melville Jacobs (1902-1971)

…Today we discover another, earlier one, although only in English translation.

There are those in the 2019 Chinuk Wawa community who are capable of re-translating this story so we can hear it in Jargon again.*

Who’s up for that?

It’ll take a little bit of considered thought. For example, the ‘ash tree’ (ísik-stík in Chinuk Wawa) mentioned in the myth isn’t an immediately obvious species, since Northwesterners, like other Americans, call various trees ‘ash’. In Spokane, I grew up hearing elms called that! But these are minor issues.

The youngish but knowledgeable researcher J[ames]. Owen Dorsey (1848-1895) published this tale on pages 58-60 of his article “Indians of Siletz Reservation, Oregon“, American Anthropologist 2(1) (1889).

It’s from the Oregon Coast Athabaskan people; “Naltunne tunne” is the name of one of the Tututni tribes and its language. Here’s a link to Dorsey’s list of plant names in that language, if you’d like to get some idea what it sounds like.

Here’s the story as Dorsey, who knew and documented pretty good Grand Ronde-style Jargon, presents it:

siletz myth 01

siletz myth 02.PNG

siletz myth 03

siletz myth 04

For those interested in having as much information as possible, you can view Dorsey’s handwritten original version of the same story, which he interestingly attributes to the “Chemetunne” or “Joshua” tribe:


Naltunnetunne / Chemetunne / Joshua “Creation Myth” (image credit: Oregon History Project)

This same myth was also recorded by Leo Frachtenberg about 30 years later, if you want yet more material to compare with.

*(I suspect there are speakers of Siletz Dee-ni, too, who can restore it to that tribal language.)

What do you think?