Brush Indians & “stick Siwash”

Just a quick note today, showing you a rare synonym of “Stick Indians”, and the earliest occurrence of the latter.

“Brush Indians” seems limited to the English of certain moderately Chinuk Wawa-influenced Alaskan Native communities.

I have in mind specifically the Tanacross language group, Dene (Athabaskan) people of eastern interior Alaska, many of whom live in the villages of Tanacross and Tok. That’s at the extreme north end of Chinook Jargon’s historical range of use.

The book “Our Voices: Native Stories of Alaska and the Yukon” contains a traditional Tanacross story of a “brush Indian” who returned a local man’s kindness by giving the first dentalium (money shell) necklaces ever seen by these folks.

Now, Alaskan coastal tribes refer to interior tribes as “Stick Indians” or “Sticks” from Chinuk Wawa stík ‘forest’.

(By the way, thanks to Bruce B. MacLachlan’s chapter on northern BC’s Tahltans in the Handbook of North American Indians vol. 6, page 466, I’ve found an 1866 telegraph survey report by Frank L. Pope, whose page 27 is the earliest report of Jargon < stick Siwash > that I’m aware of — although I’ve presented earlier occurrences of the half-translated phrase “Stick Indians“.)*

stick siwash.PNG

But anyhow, the Tanacross story just mentioned is accompanied by a comment that interior tribes saw “Brush Indians” (a translation variant of “Stick Indians”) as being coastal!

And of course dentalia come from the coast.

Both groups agree with each other, and with what I’ve been told by tribal people in Washington state (as well as what’s said in old stories in Chinuk Wawa), that “Stick Indians” are secretive, normally avoiding contact with us regular people.

Various scholarly sources over the decades, such as this one, note a widespread Northern Athabaskan fear of “Brush Indian” bogeymen. So it looks like we can add this phrase to the roster of locally common English expressions influenced by Chinuk Wawa.

* A small digression: page 17 in the 1865 section of Pope’s report states that Dene people who live near fur-trade forts speak “Canadian French fluently” — likely what I’ve reported as the pidgin “French of the Mountains” — and also relays what was surely a joke by Native people, that the Mud Lake tribe are able to understand immigrants’ Chinese!

What do you think?