1913: “The British Columbia Orphans’ Friend”, and Salish and Nuučaan’uɬ folks

The “Historical Number” (issue) of a post-frontier Catholic charity’s periodical preserves interesting scraps of Chinuk Wawa…

The British Columbia Orphans’ Friend” repeats some well-known information, such as the story of Fathers Demers and Blanchet learning “Chinook” and using it to introduce Pacific NW tribes to Christianity.

But it also brings to our notice some points we hadn’t been aware of. 

“The Cowichan, Saanich and Kuper Island Missions” by Rev. M.M. Ronde, S.M.M.


Father Rondeault’s first hosts in Cowichan country (from page 41)

For example, a character previously little known to us is Father Peter Rondeault (born in St. Norbert, Québec, 1824), who took up Demers’ call for additional missionaries to the Indians, coming by sea to Victoria in 1858. Finding his assignment in that town unsatisfying, he demanded to work with Native people or else he would “pack up and go back to Canada (Eastern Canada was then so called).” (Page 41.) Rondeault became fluent in Chinuk Wawa soon after being sent among the Cowichans (Hul’q’umin’um-speaking Salish of Vancouver Island); at first he lived with the above-pictured Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Tsulchamet. However, these people preferred being spoken to in their own language, so he found an Iroquois former employee of the Hudson Bay Company’s Sir James Douglas, who — it’s specified in this article — interpreted Rondeault’s Jargon into their Salish (page 43). It may be an important detail that only after this did Rondeault find a native Cowichan who could interpret for him; Chinook Jargon was still a pretty new thing on Vancouver Island in those days, and not as widely known as it would become a generation later. Upon this helper’s being killed by (the writer claims) his own relatives, Gabriel Tsulchamet assumed the duties of Jargon interpreter, and is said to executed them both well and creatively.  In 1883, we’re told, the Cowichan people were proud to see “the ‘tyee men‘ [leader-people] among the Whites” coming to honour his quarter-century anniversary in the region (page 47). 


(from page 47)

Later in the same article, I’m very interested to learn on page 51 that the average Indian will greet you with a sentiment phrased and spelled as “Iaka tlate lale halo naika nanich maika” (“I did not see you for a very long time”) . That’s yaka dléit léili héilo naika nánich maika which is fluent aside from the yaka ‘(s)he’, which sounds like a Settler talking Jargon. Those spellings, by the way, are echoes of the earlier francophone Catholic missionary documentors of Chinuk Wawa, such as Demers, Blanchet, St Onge, Durieu, and Le Jeune.


(from page 53)

Another occurrence of CW in this piece is from Father Joseph Mary Mandart (born 1819 in Vannes, Brittany), another person we haven’t known much about. His telling of the only time he could recall having been under any threat from the Saanich Indians since his arrival in Victoria in 1862. Apparently one day he was walking along a forest path when he heard voices conferring in a hiding place among the ferns — “Tloosh halo, leplate iaka” (“We better not. It is the priest.”) (Page 55.) [ɬúsh héilo, lepléit yaka] He inferred that the men speaking, whose voices he recognized, had been planning to rob the next White man who came along, but quickly changed plans. This was prior to 1886, at which date Mandart was reassigned to serve the francophone population of Victoria. 

A Mayne Island (presumably Salish) Indian is mentioned, Tom Sulsametstsen, a.k.a. Skookum [skúkum ‘strong’ or in later CW ‘excellent’] Tom (page 63).

The Kyuquot Mission, i.e. among the Nuučaan’uɬ people of Vancouver Island’s west coast, is described: “When the men are gone sealing there is Low Mass, during which the beads are said aloud and hymns are chanted in Latin, English and Chinook by the feminine congregation” (page 69). Because we tend to hear less of female Jargon speakers, I like to highlight comments like this one to show that in many places and times, CW was widely spoken throughout entire communities. 

Is this a Nuučaan’uɬ word, or English “chugger” (a word that calls to mind my first kid when he was 3 years old)? — “…preparations were made for the reception of the priest, but entirely after the Siwash fashion. ‘The chuger is coming,’ shouted some at the top of their voice (‘chuger‘ stands for anything that excites wonder and is of a nature to do harm).” (Page 71.)

In the next paragraphs, the priest (chuger?) visiting “Chukleset”, i.e. Uchucklesaht, asks the chief to assemble his people to hear an address. The response: “Tlaska helo tike” (“they do not want to”). The priest tries asking to see just the children, to be told “Tlaska ipsut klonas kah” (“they are hid somewhere”). Some time later, the priest asks what has happened to a little shack that used to be at Kakawis; “Iaka chako helo alta” (“It has disappeared.”) (Page 73.) 

“The Chinook jargon” is evaluated as an inadequate “makeshift” for expressing the technicalities of Christian doctrine, i.e. Eurocentric thought, to the Nuučaan’uɬ (page 75). I can only agree, as both CW and Christianity had absolutely no significant history of engagement with these folks and their culture as of 1913. Even in the Nuučaan’uɬ language itself, you couldn’t possibly convey all the cultural associations and assumptions that Europeans have piled onto the Jesus religion. I find it refreshing to read a missionary priest, of all people, soberly expressing such a critique. 

“The Late Very Rev. August J. Brabant” by the Rev. Sister Theodore


“Group of Indians with their chief Matlahaw, the Would-Be Murderer of Father Brabant” (page 85)

Page 85 conveys Father Brabant’s unusual translation of CW “Memeloust” [míməlust ‘dead; die’] spoken by Hesquiaht chief Matlahaw just before twice shooting the priest: ‘Smallpox’ (page 85). Maybe that’s what the speaker meant, as the setting was indeed a smallpox outbreak in 1875.


Lemmens (from page 107)

“Lives of Former Bishops” by Very Rev. Joseph Leterme, V.G.

Bishop John N. Lemmens of Victoria (born 1850 in Schimmert, Holland) is reported to have been conversant in numerous languages, including “the convenient Chinook” (page 107).

“Reminiscences of Early Days on Vancouver Island” by Monsignor Nicolaye

Father Nicolaye recalls busying himself, in the autumn of 1876, with learning Chinuk Wawa upon arrival at his new posting of Kyuquot while Father Brabant studied “the Indian language”, Nuučaan’uɬ (page 119).

The priests’ reliance on Chinuk Wawa interpreters, who apparently tended to be “of inferior rank — a ‘mastchimme,’ as the natives used to say”, could lead to misunderstandings because such a person was reluctant to accurately convey anything the missionary said that was critical of a chief or a “tamanwas” / “tamanwasman” (“doctor”; plural “tamanwasmen”) (page 121). [Mastchimme is the Nuučaan’uɬ source of an early CW word for ‘commoner’ or ‘slave’.] 

One anecdote of sheer cultural incomprehension is of the local interpreter trying to convey to locals the leplet‘s request that churchgoers bless themselves from a container of holy water at the entry to the church. This European custom of making the Sign of the Cross, utterly foreign to the Nuučaan’uɬ, was I think brilliantly equated in the translator’s mind with the more well-known CW Christian idea of wásh (‘wash(ing up), cleaning (up); baptism’). At least one irate community member strongly objected to the perceived demand for Native parishioners to bathe at the church door! 


(page 121)

“The Russian Princess” by Rev. Sister Mary Theodore

A most amusing new spelling of the CW-associated word eulachon (candlefish, smelts, etc.) — ulicorn! (Page 183.)

What do you think?