1901: Martha Douglas Harris’s “Chee-chee-ka” (Part 1)

martha harris

Martha Douglas Harris (image credit: BC BookWorld)

Martha Douglas Harris has a really interesting biography, from the BC Archives website:

Martha Harris (née Douglas) was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1854 and was the youngest member of her family. Her father was James Douglas, the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island and her mother was Amelia Douglas.

Based on letters sent between Martha Douglas and her father, the two had a closer relationship than James Douglas had with any of his other children. It is speculated that the reason for this was that she was only ten years old when James Douglas retired and therefore spent more time with him than any of her other siblings did. When Martha was 18, her father sent her to England for her education as colonial education was considered insufficient at the time. This separation had the two sending letters back and forth for the next two years.

In 1874, James Douglas went on a trip to England and brought Martha back to Victoria with him. Her father passed away in 1877, and Martha married Dennis Harris in 1878. Dennis Harris was a land surveyor with the Canadian Pacific Railway who later became an engineer and businessman in Victoria.

Both of Martha’s parents were mixed race – her father had been born in British Guyana to a mixed race mother and a Scottish father, and her mother was part Cree. Although her parents faced prejudice, her mother still taught Martha Cree legends and stories, as well as other First Nations stories from the west coast. After both of her parents had passed away, Martha Harris wrote and published adapted versions of the stories her mother had passed down.

Martha Harris was a member of societies such as the Island Arts and Crafts Society, the Lace Club of Victoria, and the Women’s Institute Weavers Guild. She had seven children and passed away in 1933.

From her book “History and Folklore of the Cowichan Indians” (Victoria, BC: The Colonist Printing and Publishing Company, 1901), a really interesting and odd Chinook Jargon tale…

Cheecheeka 01

Cheecheeka 02

Cheecheeka 03

Cheecheeka 04

Cheecheeka 05Cheecheeka 06

Cheecheeka 07


Cheecheeka ENGLIST 01

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 02

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 03

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 04

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 05

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 06

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 07

Cheecheeka ENGLIST 08

Dr. Ross Clark of the University of Auckland, New Zealand first brought the above story to my attention. My colleagues Janet Leonard and Claire Turner presented the first linguistic analysis of this unusual Jargon story at the 2005 Chinuk-Wawa Luʔlu, at the University of Victoria. I give all credit and big thanks to these folks for inspiring me to further work on it, which you’ll be seeing in the upcoming parts of this mini-series.

So stay tuned as I go into the details of deciphering this story!

What have you learned?