1912: Magistrate Edmonds cumtux Chinook Wawa

Not so long after the frontier era, when Chinook Jargon was still a broadly useful tool in British Columbia, many court dates relied on this language.


The New West cops would bust you for owning alcohol while Indigenous (image credit: New Westminster Police)

I’m one of those persnickety linguist types, so I would specify that the following trial wasn’t “conducted in” Jargon.

But it very obviously relied on Chinook.

Thus the headline — untranslated, because average Settler readers still cumtuxed what “cumtux” means.

And yet Chinuk Wawa was indeed becoming a rarer phenomenon in the cities, so by 1912 it was a go-to subject for a local-interest story in the local paper.

  • Preparatory to reading today’s news clipping, shall we embrace the fact that it pivots around the racist colonizer government’s assumption that Indigenous people have fewer rights when it comes to personal choices about drinking alcohol?
  • And the fact that Police Magistrate Henry Lovekin Edmonds was not a rare Settler court official in his behaviour – – there’s excellent evidence that judges, like most Whites in the Pacific Northwest, often presumed Native people spoke Chinuk Wawa, without first inquiring into that matter…
  • Not to mention that the accused here is merely “an Indian”, not given the dignity of being named…

Well, here it is:


Trial of Indian in Police Court Was Conducted in Native Jargon.


The Royal City, scene of many unusual occurrences recently, yesterday morning added another matter to the list and one that will not likely be duplicated in any other court of justice on the continent. An Indian appeared before Magistrate Edmonds of the local police court, charged with unlawfully having liquor in his possession. His honor carried on the conversation in Chinook and thereby obtained sufficient evidence to warrant the accused being fined five dollars. 

In the case of a local hotel where a plea of guilty was entered on the charge of unlawfully selling liquor, the magistrate fined the proprietor $50 and costs, the proprietor at the time was out of the city, but the magistrate held that he was responsible for the acts of his clerks.

— from the Vancouver (BC) Daily World, Thu, Aug 15, 1912

Thanks to reader Alex Code for this newspaper clipping!

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