1907: Southern interior BC Chinook conversations, and residential schools

One of my readers, Darrin Brager, was kind enough to send along a really interesting article that some condescending newspaper editor gave an unfortunate headline to.

“British Columbia Indians: Are They Becoming Better or Worse? / A Study of the Effects of Civilization on the Aborigines of the West.”


Practically the only non-totem-pole photo in today’s newspaper article:
“Daisy, a familiar figure among the Siwashes of North Vancouver.”

Part of the interest of this piece by John P. McConnell is its author’s conversation with Indigenous people in Chinuk Wawa. Some of what’s quoted rings true, but unfortunately most of it clearly comes from a dictionary and doesn’t sound like genuine BC “northern Chinook” at all. Don’t imitate McConnell’s example.

[EDITING TO ADD, ON JULY 6, 2022 — Yup, I found out where the journalist plagiarized at least some of his Chinook Jargon from. Compare page 58 of JK Gill’s CJ dictionary, 1882 edition, where the example dialogue includes the lines “How long have you lived here?” & “I have always lived here”, and the CJ translations of these have the same typographical errors that we find in the article I’m about to show you.] 

Please take the following with a grain of salt and a jaundiced eye toward the romanticizing of “Indians”:

The horseback-riding author’s “Klah-how-ya, six” translated as ‘How are you, friend?’ opens the article. The addressee, an elder man, responds “Klah-how-ya” and goes on, “Kah-tah mica siah klatawa o’coke sun?”, translated for us as ‘How far have you traveled today?’ “Moxt tah-tlum pee ikt” ‘Twenty-one miles.’ “Mica chah-co till?” ‘Are you tired?’ “Oh, tenas. Spose nika patlach mica tenas kinni-kinnick?” ‘Oh, a little. Suppose I give you a little tobacco?’ “Na-wit-ka. Ma-sah. Mika hyas kloshe tum-tum[,] mika tik-eh mam-ook mucka-muck?” ‘Certainly, with thanks. You are very kind. Will you eat something?’ …

Being introduced to the ancient kloochman, I asked the old woman “Konsi lo-lo [sic, for le-le] mi-ka mit-lite yah-kwa?” ‘How long have you lived here?’ “Kwon-e-sum nika mitlite.” ‘All my life.’ “And how long is that?” I asked. “Oh hy-u yootl-kot moon. Spose tah-tlum to-ka-mo-muk*.” ‘Oh, many long moons. Maybe a thousand,’ she said, laughing…In such a manner I became acquainted with Kequilly Charlie and his old kloochman in their camp on the banks of the roaring Thompson one hot afternoon last summer. [Soon after this, the author uses an interesting synonym for frybread/bannock, “Indian doughboys”, that’s new to me.]

And as we smoked and watched, the old man told me tales of the old days — days before the white man, with his kuitan piah (fire horse) and shovel and gold pan came … In the fall they would take to the mountains to hunt for fleet-footed mowich (deer)… Then they would spend the winter trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company stores, training their tenas tillicums (little folks) and living on the fruits of their summer toil… In those days…they had blankets and skins of the hyas puss puss (mountain lion), too… And they lived in the kequilly houses. These were built underground with a sod roof above.

Then Charlie told me of the big gold rush, more than forty years ago. He told me how the miners came up from the south from Granite Creek, and from the west down the Thompson, and overspread the Thompson and Fraser Valleys, how they tore up the banks and washed out all the hyas chicamin (fine metal)… The Siwash got his first introduction to piah chuck (fire water). After that he got much sick and coughed a lot. Bimeby he memaloose (die). Cultus white men too, stole their kloochmen and debauched their young girls… But chicamin! No man coul deat it, and if it was worn it would not keep him warm…

But the new trail was different. It was level. And on it were too [two] long rails of chicamin. Bimeby came a great smoking, snorting, kuitan piah, that screamed like hya tol-a-puss (many coyotes). And it was hyu skookum (very strong) for it pulled behind it many houses… Yet to Charlie, living in his aboriginal past, it was only a kiutan piah pulling many houses and making hyu la-tlah (much noise)…

Old Charley had been wetting his finger and testing the wind and otherwise manifesting keen interest in the weather signs, so when I spoke of pulling out he earnestly entreated me to stay. “Sah-ha-le piah hyu snas chaco hyak” (literally high or sky, fire and great rain come quick), he said gravely… [A little farther along the trail, the writer meets a Native family who speak English and are more acculturated than Charley.] …

The Siwash religion is rather a form of sorcery or witchcraft. A fakir who can impress them with his alleged power by means of mysterious rites and high-sounding incantations becomes the hyu medicine man around whom centres what passes for religious rites among them. [A following section of the article is headlined “Vulgarity of Potlach.”] asdf

— All of this is from the Vancouver (BC) Daily Province of April 6, 1907, pages 24 (columns 1-6) and 25 (columns 1-4)

Bonus fact:

On the second page of the article, the journalist goes into quite a lot of detail about the acculturated education of Native kids; one section’s headline is “Boarding Schools Favored”, meaning the “industrial” i.e. residential schools.

The argument is made that schools providing “a comfortable place of residence” are more sensible than the existing pattern of sporadic attendance at day schools.

Other ideas for social engineering so that “the rancherie would disappear” are presented.

Interesting resources for those investigating the residential-school experience.

kata maika tumtum?
What do you think?