John Touin/Tuan/Twan, a BC Métis literate in Chinook Jargon

Historians Jean Barman and Mike Evans published an excellent article, “Reflections on Being and Becoming Métis in British Columbia” (The British Columbian Quarterly, 2009).


(Image credit: Sage Birchwater’s “Chilcotin Chronicles” / Williams Lake Tribune)

Here again we can directly tie a Métis person to Chinook Jargon.

Barman and Evans’ article examines the Boucher and Twan (Touin) families. Charles Touin came out to BC from Québec and worked from 1833 to 1861 in the fur trade at Fort Alexandria.

Charles’ Chilcotin wife Mary Cletses and he had a son John, their family thus becoming what we’ve termed “little-m” métis, as opposed to the Bouchers, who were “Big-M” Métis from Red River through their fur-trade patriarch Jean-Baptiste “Waccan”.

Having made that fine distinction, we can definitely prove John Touin / Twan / Tuan was an active participant in the Chinuk Wawa culture of British Columbia, as the following two excerpts illustrate:

< John S. Tuan. >

     Iht man kopa Fort Aliksandir [SIC] iaka
     A certain man at Fort Alexander [Alexandria] 

nim Shon Shuan [SIC] iaka mash mokst tala
named John “Chuan” has sent two dollars 

kopa Kamlups Wawa pi iaka tlap
to Kamloops Wawa and he’s gotten 

iht buk kata ST ankati mamuk
one book about how God long ago made 

sahali ilihi pi wi [SIC] < 12 >
Heaven and also 12 

Chinuk shanti buk.
Chinook hymn books. 

— Kamloops Wawa #115, April 1894, page 64

That spelling “Shuan” likely indicates a pronunciation “Chuan”, something like [čwã], which would parallel the traces of (Red River) Métis French in Chinook Jargon. For instance, CJ (la)chúk ‘cap (toque)’ has a similar affrication of a /t/ before a vowel /o ~ u/.

     Kopa Fort Akcandir* tlun iskom Chinuk pipa: < 1o > Shon Twan*
     At Fort Alexander [Alexandria] three take the Chinook paper: #1 John Tuan

< 2o > Agnis* pi < 3o > Bici.
#2 Agnes and #3 Betsy. 

Kopa Kinil iht man, Wiam, pi iht kluchmin
At Quesnel a certain man, William, and a woman 

iaka nim Shini, kopit mokst.
named Jenny, just the two. 

Kopa Shilkotin ilihi mokst iskom Chinuk pipa:
From the Chilcotin country two take the Chinook paper: 

Brigan* kopa Hansvil, pi Anai* alta kopa Shugir Kin.
Briggan (?) at Hanceville, and Anai (?) who is now at Sugarcane. 

— from Kamloops Wawa #132 (September 1895), page 133

So we infer that the BC-born métis John Touin / Twan / Tuan was literate and fluent in Chinuk Wawa, way up there at the northern end of CW territory.

One reason why there were relatively few subscribers to Kamloops Wawa in the Cariboo region was simply that the (Big-M) Métis “French of the Mountains” / “Country French” was still holding on as the main lingua franca of trade up there. It’s virtually guaranteed that John Tuan also spoke Métis French.

It’s quite fascinating to be doing this research that demonstrates for the first time the huge role of Métis people and their speech in shaping the history of British Columbia.

Kosay ti pens?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?