Reasons why Demers and Blanchet learned and taught CW so fast

Because of their exposure to Indigenous peoples in Eastern Canada!

We’re beginning by talking about an important figure in Chinook Jargon history, Father (later Bishop) Modeste Demers (1809-1871), who arrived at Fort Vancouver from Québec in late 1838.

Immediately prior to that, the newly ordained Demers had served for a year or so at the Red River Colony in present-day Manitoba, a place we might call the heartland of the Métis Nation. 

So Demers was transplanted from one community of multiethnic fur-trade households to another! 

Both places heavily used Canadian / Métis French, which was already becoming a huge part of lower Columbia River Chinuk Wawa. 

So it occurs to me that he would’ve had a particular advantage in becoming quickly fluent in creole CW. 

Unlike later arriving missionaries, it would seem nobody could’ve trained Demers in advance with any CW lessons.

So, unlike Fathers St. Onge, Le Jeune, et al. in the 1870s and onwards, he would’ve arrived pretty much ignorant of Jargon.

Let’s look at Father (eventually Archbishop) FN Blanchet‘s (1795-1883) pre-existing linguistic repertoire as well.

This priest spent 7 years as a missionary in New Brunswick, one of the modern Maritime provinces of Canada, among a Mi’kmaq (Algonquian-language), Acadian (French-speaking), and Irish immigrant population.

He’s reported to have learned English in order to do that job better, and he would’ve been well capable of understanding Acadian varieties of North American French; I know nothing about any skill he may have had with Mi’kmaq. 

So Blanchet, too, had a pretty useful multilingual repertoire at his fingertips to help him learn Jargon fast and fluently. 

Still another interesting connection is Blanchet’s priestly work among the Mi’kmaq people, who already had been using a hieroglyphic system for writing prayers in their language for over 150 years: 


Mi’kmaq hieroglyphic “Ave Maria” (image credit: Wikipedia)

I invoke this connection because it’s Blanchet who, soon after arriving in the Pacific Northwest, concocted the highly successful religious teaching tool of the sáx̣ali-stík (‘heaven-tree’ or “Catholic ladder”) : 


A modern replica < Sahale stick > (image credit: Proto-Cathedral Historical Society)

So it’s possible that Blanchet’s PNW “invention” was in fact the continuation of an East Coast Indigenous idea! 

What do you think?