PNW tribe names from Métis French

Here as usual I’ll refer to the mixed Cree-French language Michif for Métis French word forms.


Hm, vocabulary about Métis people…in standard French (Image credit:

Astonishingly, Métis French remains hardly documented at all, compared with the leaps and bounds in Michif research.

I hereby suggest someone HIRE A LINGUIST (me) to conduct the field research & write the first serious grammatical description and dictionary of MFr. It’s still spoken in Manitoba, for instance.

Now, a first list of fur-trade era Métis French names of Pacific NW tribes. Have you seen other examples?

I’ll preface this with a repeat of my observation that many, many MFr words are documented only outside of the tiny scholarly literature on MFr, instead being preserved in Pacific NW languages including Chinook Jargon — and also in tribal monikers like these.

Note too that these ethnonyms have virtually always been presented in standard European French spellings, and labeled as “French” with no acknowledgement of a separate Canadian or Métis identity.

This despite their employment of highly distinctive vocabulary (like Babine) and pronunciations (like Nez Percé retaining its Métis pronunciation nipʰərsi in Chinuk Wawa).

  • Arcs Plattes [sic] = Ktunaxa / Kootenay
    (‘flat bows’, note Michif aen naark ‘a bow’ & the Métis French invariable adjective plat pronounced [plat] regardless of gender).
  • Gens des Lacsthe “Lakes” Salish
    (Michif zhawn ‘person’, di ‘of’, lak ‘lake(s)’)
  • Pend d’Oreilles, formerly in English translation the Ear Bobs
    (Michif pañ dareey ‘earrings’, mii pañ dareey ‘my earrings’ versus modern standard French boucles d’oreilles).
  • Couteau(x) = Thompson Salish
    (Michif aen kootoo ‘knife’).
  • Coeur(s) d’Alène
    (Michif koer/choer ‘heart’, dʹ ʹofʹ, aen naleen ʹan awlʹ).
  • Chaudières
    (compare Michif shayayr ‘kettle’, standard French chaudière).
  • Têtes Plat(t)es ‘Flatheads’
    (Michif tet ‘head’, plat ‘flat’).
  • Nez Percés
    (Michif nii ‘nose’; I haven’t found a French-origin word for ‘pierce / pierced’ in Michif, but the adjectival concepts in that language do indeed come from French)
  • Serpents = the “Snake Indians”
    (Michif sarpawn, a synonym of koulayvr)
  • Pieds Noirs ‘Blackfeet’
    (Michif pyi ‘foot’, nwer ‘black’).
  • Babines a.k.a. Witsuwit’en
    (Michif babin ‘lip’).
  • Porteurs a.k.a. “Carriers”
    (no such Michif noun found by me, and we would not expect any French verbs in Michif [therefore no *porti* ‘to carry’, but Porteurs is very amply documented in old fur trade times from “French-Canadians” at least as early as 1842).
  • Gens de Cuivres = the Yellowknife Dene (‘people of the copper’)
  • Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwe)
    are originally a tribe of the Red River area. The name refers to the “falls” of the St Mary River (Sault Ste-Marie) — thus Sauteurs, we’re told. In modern Michif the name is Sootoo.
  • Peaux de Lièvres or the “Hare Indians” / Gens de Castor ‘people of the beaver'(Michif poo ‘skin’, di ‘of’, liiyev ‘rabbit’).
  • Gens de(s) Foux = Gwich’in Dene, literally ‘crazy people’
  • Gens des Bois = Northern Tutchone Dene ‘people of the woods’, a parallel expression to Chinook Jargon and local English ‘stick Indians’, ‘forest Indians’
  • Gens de(s) Couteau(x) = Kaska Dene ‘people of the knives’
  • Gens de Large = Gwich’ins of the Chandalar River (which is said to be a pronunciation of the French phrase) ? ‘people of the wide spot’ ?
  • Gens de Bouleaux ‘people of the birch’ = the Upper Tanana Dene?
  • Loucheux a.k.a. Gwich’in
    (said to be Canadian French for ‘squinty’ or ‘cross-eyed’ or perhaps ‘quarrelers’. I haven’t found this word in Michif.)
  • “Slavey”
    (said to be a Canadian French translation, esclave, of a Cree exonym. The final /i/ sound in “Slavey” hasn’t been explained as far as I’m aware, but I can point out that the North Slavey Dene language adds exactly such a sound to the ends of many of its borrowed Métis French nouns. Examples include lishálí ‘shawl’, lalę́ní ‘yarn’, and lǝbílí ‘frying pan’.) Synonym — Mauvais Monde ‘bad people’.
  • Gens du Lac d’Ours ‘(Great) Bear Lake People’

…plus, from the northern Great Plains:

  • Gros Ventres (‘big bellies’,
    Michif groo ‘big’ and li vawnt(r) ‘belly’, plus Michif groo vaantr ‘potbelly’)
  • Sans Arcs
    (‘without bows’, Michif saan and (n)aark ‘bow’)
  • Brûlés
    (‘burnt’, a partial translation of the Lakhota tribe name Si Cangu ‘burnt thighs’; the word brûlé isn’t found in my Michif dictionaries, but again there’s no reason it couldn’t be a Michif adjective, cf. the following…)

…plus the oldtime terms for Métis people themselves, including Bois-Brûlés ‘burnt-wood’, Coureurs du Bois ‘woods-runners’, Métis ‘mixed’.

And, finally, MFr-origin for non-PNW ethnic groups, such as saganaz etc. from les anglais ‘the English’ in Dakelh, Ojibwe, and many other languages, and Chinuk Wawa pʰasayuks from ‘français’, as well as Chinuk Wawa’s (and other languages’) spa(n)yol ‘Mexican’ from espagnol.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?