Potatoes Illahee, and a BC CW word

I thought it would be good to pull together various evidence that poteito(s) was a BC Chinuk Wawa word. 

tlingit potatoes

Tlingit potatoes (image credit: Sitka Local Foods Network)

This was, as is typical for British Columbia, a late-frontier era borrowing from English, remaining true to CW’s historical trend of seeking to speak ever more precisely.

Hitherto, you had the word wáptʰu, which primarily refers to the indigenous wapato plant, Sagittaria latifolia, a.k.a. Indian potato. 

Here’s a document that suggests poteito(s) was current pretty soon after the major gold rushes of the 1850s, appearing in a Jargon place name:

potatoes illahee

Mr. Lindley’s home at that time [1870s] was at Potatoes Illahee [‘potatoes place’] sixteen miles this side of Spences Bridge.

— from the Merritt (BC) Nicola Valley News of March 11, 1910, page 14, column 1

Local road signs still show that place name, albeit (in my recollection from the early 2000s) misspelled as Potaoeillshe. Local English has referred to the place as “Potato Gardens”, which was also a common enough phrase in in BC English at the time Indian reserves were starting to be delineated. 

Here are a couple of occurrences of CW poteito in the 1890s:

Sum-taim tlaska tl’ap iht
‘Sometimes they manage to get one’

poteito, pi tlaska dleit tloosh-tumtum
‘potato, and they’re really happy’

pos tl’ap poteito
‘to get a potato.’

— from Kamloops Wawa #137 (February 1897), page 36

And I should mention my previous articles (here) (and here) that showed “Siwash potato(es)” to be a British Columbia CW phrase for the indigenous spring-beauty plant, Claytonia lanceolata

Put all that together, and you have good evidence of a northern dialect word that hardly any dictionaries of CW have taken note of. In fact, only Father Le Jeune, of Kamloops Wawa fame, reports it! (Alongside the surely older localism patak from Canadian/Métis French, which itself may have paved the way for the similar-sounding poteito to take root.) 

Note: CW poteito is not necessarily known in BC coastal usage, although there are distinct potato cultivars throughout that region that must date back two centuries or more. On the coast, the Indigenous languages tend to share a natively sourced word originally pronounced something like qáwts.

What do you think?