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.
Nicely done Dave! Much as I have alluded here to before, and in the research I have conducted to date, michif in the north was the fluid lingua franca into which many CW and other local borrow words, phrases and epithets were embedded, largely because such a brilliant amorphous form of communication was essential, and anglais just couldn’t cut it in the actual workings of the Trade. In a world where having more languages and ways of communicating could be a matter of life and death, trade success or failure, it often fell to the folks who were raised learning several before they even left the East. In fact, as you know, it was late in the day when the scourge of residential schools and missions effectively equated multilingualism with sub-humanity and ultimately starving in a state of savagery (given that, by then state and church together had the power to do that…and on occasion, they did). However, with respect to the capacity of the previous generations to move effortlessly from michif/CW to local lingua, and even Trade anglais, we are mere neophytes.
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Oh…and apropos “touin” which means “squeak”, or more usefully “the mouse”, up here the name Touin became Twan, by which a very large and respected clan of families became known, and that name eventually cast into the Indian Agency records for all eternity.
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I would love to see some. More of your research abot the Twan /Tuan/Touin family name and more so, our language that ive had a hard time finding much about. Pleqse send me inthe right direction. Thanks
I’ll see what I can do, but in the meantime, you may want to consult BC Archives, or even BC Metis organizations for records of the name by any spelling. I’ll keep you posted about what I can find.
To follow up, when in doubt, always consult Bruce McIntyre-Watson’s “Lives Lived West of the Rockies: Fur Trade Biographies”…a pretty complete Who’s Who of the folks who came to stay, and built blended families, many of whom carry names, or variations of names, depending on the origin and training of the clerks who first wrote their names, and similarly for tin-eared clergy and later Indian Agents. You will find, on page 936-937 of McIntyre Watson’s huge book, the name Touin, which later became anglicized and written phonetically as “Twan”. If you’d like the excerpt from the book, email me and I can paste it in for you. Cheers, J.
This is really interesting, I never knew much about my family as my father died when I was young, Mike Twan. I knew we had history with the Hudson Bay Fur Trade, but the nature of our name was difficult to trace, especially pre internet. Thank you!
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Hi Tara, thanks for your kind comment here. I’ll keep on posting what I turn up in my research on Métis languages of the Pacific Northwest. Hearing from descendants of those speakers makes this work come alive for me!