1887: Kaska Dena people spoke little Chinook Jargon

A passing remark by known BC Chinuk Wawa speaker and researcher, George Mercer Dawson, helps us understand the geographic limits of CW.


(Image credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

I came across this useful information in Glenn William Iceton’s 2019 dissertation “Defining Space: How History Shaped and Informed Notions of Kaska Land Use and Occupancy” (University of Saskatchewan, History Dept.)

“They speak Chinook but poorly”
(‘but’ = ‘only’)

On page 135 is a footnote:

kaska 1

Page 137 has a related observation:

kaska 2

Both, in short, tell us that the Kaska Dena (Athabaskans) of far northern British Columbia and southern Yukon Territory had little experience of Chinook Jargon — at least in 1887.

That’s prior to the Klondike Gold Rush, which peaked around 1897 and brought in massive numbers of non-Natives from the southward. Most came from and/or via Washington State and Victoria, BC, so a lot of them were acquainted with CJ, and tried to use it with First Nations along their trails to the goldfields.

Per Wikipedia:

Kaska Dena communities and First Nations include:

Kaska Dena also live in British Columbia communities of Fireside and Muncho Lake, between Watson Lake and Fort Nelson along the Alaska Highway.

Some of those places were more or less involved in the Klondike gold rush.

But even at that later date, we find hardly any good evidence in the historical record for fluent Chinuk Wawa use in these northern interior places. The language was primarily associated with coastal Natives such as Haidas, Tlingits, Heiltsuks (but Tsimshians not so much), and had already become established among those folks prior to 1897.

That chronological and geographical situation helps us to understand why interior Athabaskan tribes including the Kaska Dena were known by a Jargon exonym — a name that only outsiders used: Stick Indians. (‘Forest’ Indians. The forested interior was customarily contrasted with the coastal Salt Chuck ‘saltwater’ Indians.)

Good to hear a knowledgeable observer making an explicit comment that confirms our failure to find Jargon in the interior.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?