1932: Stalo-sawash remembered

A casual comment makes an oldtimer’s interview plenty interesting to us…


The author’s dedication (image credit: biblio.com)

I was sent a link to an online scan from the book “Early Vancouver [Narratives of Pioneers of Vancouver]: Volume Two” by J[ames].S[kitt]. Matthews, originally published in 1933 (Vancouver, BC: City of Vancouver, 2011).

There’s no Chinook Jargon to be found in the 1932 interview with “Alexander McLean, Oldest Living Pioneer” (1851-1932), who was brought to Vancouver (well, “Pitt River Meadows”, now called Port Coquitlam) with his merchant dad from San Francisco, CA in 1858.

McLean’s family hosted Sir James Douglas at their homestead in 1860; I’ve previously written about them in “Strychnine in Port Coquitlam“.

No CJ, I say — at least not on the surface.

But looka here:

saltwater vs river natives

To us cognoscenti (you’re welcome), this screams “I’m an oldtimer and I know Chinook!”

Here’s why:

A really old term in all dialects of Chinuk Wawa is saltsəqw-sawash (‘the saltwater Natives’), meaning tribes living in close association with the Pacific Ocean.

Not quite as old is the mainly northern-dialect CW stik-sawash (‘forest/inland Natives’), for tribes living some distance from the coast. (This gave rise to the Pacific Northwest English term ‘Stick Indians’, which I’ve mostly found in Washington state and Alaska.)

Later yet, I think — once CW started to be spoken a lot in mainland BC, let’s say from the 1858 Fraser River gold rush onwards — there seems to have been a concept of the stalo-sawash (‘river Natives’).

I find it interesting that in earlier times, when the Jargon was confined to the Columbia River area, there’s no indication known to me of folks referring to ‘river people’ in CW! In both cases, ‘river Natives’ is a concept distinct from ‘the Rogue River Indians’, ‘the Snake River tribes’, and so on.

I’ve only seen this stalo-sawash used in reference to tribes along what’s geographically termed the lower Fraser River, BC, i.e. Coast Salish people who don’t live directly on the coastline. Most occurrences that I know of are from the 1890s.

Alexander McLean’s distinction in local English between ‘saltwater Indians’ and ‘river Indians’ is so characteristic of the locale and the time, and so rare in English otherwise, that I believe it shows him mentally translating from Chinook Jargon.

Naika wawa mirsi kopa Alex Code for sharing the link to the above.

Bonus fact:

That uniquely BC CW word stalo for ‘river’ came to be widely used; it was normal a couple of generations later in the Kamloops area inland.

It’s from the word stó:lō ‘river’ in a language whose speakers nowadays might refer to it as the Stó:lō language of the Stó:lō Nation.

Linguists have called it the Halq’eméylem Salish language / Upriver or Upper Fraser Halkomelem / etc.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?