1888: Siwash evidence

Another in our occasional series on the use of Chinook Jargon in the courts of the Pacific Northwest.

Folks always had mixed feelings about how CJ fit into the Anglo-Canadian-American legal system.

Thanks again to reader Alex Code, for sending this interesting article along.

siwash evidence

Siwash Evidence. 

At the police court this morning three Indians gave evidence on the same subject and each one managed to tell an entirely different story from the other. When Indians are sworn the interpreter always threatens them with a long period of imprisonment in the “skookum house” unless they tell the truth, an dyet they are allowed to perjure themselves time after time without punishment. It would be as well to drop the “skookum house” and oath also, unless an occasional example is made, for as things go on at present neither have any terror for the lying Siwash

— from the New Westminster (BC) Daily Columbian of May 28, 1888, page 4, column 2

Skukum-haws (‘strong-house’) is of course the famous Chinuk Wawa expression for ‘jail’ — sorry, ‘gaol’ in 1880s BC.

Bonus fact:

Elsewhere on the same page is a news item about “Scotty Lucy, an Indian woman of the Bella coola tribe”. The British English word scotty or scatty became a word of BC Chinuk Wawa. It turns up to this day in dictionaries of BC coastal Indigenous languages as a term for ‘crazy’.

Also mentioned on this page is a special meeting of the Hyack Fire Comp’y. The New Westminster fire department, presumably among the first in the province, named itself with the Jargon word for ‘fast’ / ‘hurry’.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?