Métis people’s tracks in the BC Christmas landscape

The research I’ve been doing into the Métis linguistic presence in British Columbia leads to a timely discovery…

(Image credit: Michif.org)

The various words for ‘Christmas’ in BC Chinuk Wawa, and in Salish, are further evidence that points to Métis people’s presence in the province in fur-trade times. 

There are essentially two words for this holiday in northern-dialect Chinook Jargon, as preserved in BC’s unique Chinuk Pipa ‘Chinook Writing alphabet of the 1890s-1910s. 


In the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, we find Jargon < lanoil > for ‘Christmas’. The question is, is this la noël ou le noël? I believe it’s “la”, short for “la fête de Noël” (‘the Christmas holiday’).

This French-sourced word Noël is probably the earliest to have been used in BC Chinook Jargon. It shows up in earlier issues of Father Le Jeune’s Kamloops Wawa.

The same word shows up in older local Salish, in a Secwepemctsín (Shuswap) catechism by Le Jeune’s predecessor Father Gendre. Maybe you can see that this is asking when was the day Jesus was born, and answering that that was Christmas in Bethlehem: 

“Old Shushwap Catechism” lanoil: 

<20.> Nahan tl shitkrit l* yuhtish

ShK? = Lanoil, nshhshitawsh, l

yuhtish ShK, n Bitliim, n htomaltawɬuh*,

ash konkwanchtalis.

Salish in southern interior BC was very much in contact with the speech and culture of Métis fur-trade employees from about 1800 until well past the gold rushes of 1858+. 

Another issue of Kamloops Wawa reproduces Father Gendre’s 1870 “Catechism in Shushwap”, and there I notice both this lanoil and a synonym, the apparently Salish-ized lshultnoil (more clearly lshurdnoil in another KW issue). That is, le jour de Noël, again likely from the habitual Métis ways of referring to the holiday. Very interestingly, in the following example, it’s written as if the priest understood it to be a Salish expression, with the Salish articles and t!

<17.> Nahan tl shitkrit l yuhtish ShK?

= L shult t Noil k yuhtish ShK, nish

hshitush, n htomaltwawɬuh*.

This variant can be directly compared with the Métis French preserved in Michif as (Turtle Mountain) li zhoor di Noel, and (Gabriel Dumont Institute) li zhoor di Nowel


Kamloops-area Chinuk Wawa also prominently uses the word krismas. This is the newer synonym. The pattern for BC CW in general is that newer borrowings come from spoken English, many of them replacing existing older words, in this case lanoil. There are a very large number of occurrences of krismas in Kamloops Wawa, extending much later than lanoil does.

So, the British Columbia CW words for this one concept are a microcosm of the province’s history of trade languages. First there was “French of the Mountains”, which was eventually replaced almost everywhere by that other Métis language of the fur trade, Chinook Jargon. In interior BC, the two languages overlapped, with the earlier one influencing the shape of the later one. 

(And this is all separate from the large Métis role in the formation of Chinuk Wawa, down in the Fort Vancouver area of the Columbia River!) 

Kosay ti pens?
Kata mayka tumtum?
What do you think?