1855: The only “Stevens treaties” document in Chinook Jargon

dret hayu masi kʰapa chup henli /
nawitka ayu naika wawa mirsi kopa olman hinri!

Among the many reasons why the following document is perhaps the most valuable item ever written in Chinuk Wawa:

  • It’s the only thing written down and preserved in Chinook Jargon from the heavily CJ-dependent “Stevens treaties” negotiations of 1854-1855.
  • It’s the best guide we have to what the Jargon used at those parleys was like, in terms of vocabulary, grammar, semantics, ability to express the ideas said to be encoded in the treaties, and so on.
  • It’s the most direct, least mediated written evidence we have — alongside the valuable oral histories — for what kinds of claims were being made to the tribal nations by the US government representatives at those negotiations.
  • Thus it’s our very best evidence for how tribal people who were present there understood what was being promised to them.
  • It’s our best model for “back-translating” those treaties’ negotiations that are preserved almost entirely in English. (Which are more voluminous than today’s single speech.)
  • One can easily go on. The importance of the following address by US government translator, Colonel Michael Simmons, cannot be overstated.
  • This look at it is only a start. I’ve put an enormous number of work hours into it, and there is much more to come.
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In the following text, the English translation marked (DDR) is my analysis of what Simmons actually said. The other translation is the one supplied in the treaty notes — see the end of today’s post.

Treaty of Muckleteoh or Point Elliott / Treaty Papers 1854 & 1855

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Col. Simmons then in the Indian Languages* as follows:

Col. Simmons

“Nika Owh. Hyas leli nika kumtux mesika, pe
nayka áw. hayas-líli nayka kə́mtəks msayka, pi
my brother. [1] very-long.time I know you.folks, and

‘My brothers: I have known you for a long time, and’
(DDR) ‘My (younger) brothers. I have known you folks for a very long time, and’

mesika kumtux nika. Kwahnesum close tum tum mesika kop[a]
msayka kə́mtəks nayka. kwánsəm ɬúsh-tə́mtəm msayka kʰupa 

you.folks know me. always good-heart you.folks to 
‘you have known me. Your hearts have always been good towards’
(DDR) ‘you folks know me. You are always kind to’

nika, pe ahncotti kopa konaway Boston. Alta mesache Boston
nayka, pi ánqati kʰupa kʰánawi bástən. álta [2] más(h)áchi bástən

me, and previously to all American. now mean American 
‘me, and formerly they were towards all Americans. Since then bad White men’
(DDR) ‘me, and you used to be (that way) to all the Americans. Now mean Americans’

chahko pe Mahkook lum kopa Mesika, kahkwa tilicum
cháku pi mákuk lám kʰupa msayka, kákwa tílixam 

come and sell alcohol to you.folks, that.way people 
‘have com[e] who sell you rum, so that people’
(DDR) ‘come and sell alcohol to you folks, so people’

capsualla mesika dolla, pe chahko Klahowyam Siwash.
kaps(h)wála msayka dála, pi chaku-ɬax̣áwyam sáwásh. 

steal you.folks’ money, and become-poor Native.
‘cheat you of your money an[d] Indians become poor.’
(DDR) ‘steal you folks’ money, and the Natives get poor.’

Alta ikt, ikt siwash mamook mesache kopa Boston. Nika
álta íxt-ixt sáwásh mamuk-más(h)áchi [3] kʰupa bástən. nayka 

now one-one Native make-evil to American. I 
‘Nowadays some Indians make mischief on the White[s.] In my’
(DDR) ‘Then this and that Native does mean things to Americans. I’

tum tum lum mamook kahkwa, nika siwash tum tum, Close
tə́mtəm lám mámuk kákwa, [4] nayka sáwásh-tə́mtəm, [5] ɬúsh 

think alcohol make so, my Native-heart, good 
‘opinion rum is the cause of this — such is my real mind.’
(DDR) ‘think it’s alcohol that makes it be like this; I have a heart for the Natives; let’

nika potlatch tum tum kopa Siwash alta. Mesika copet ma[-]
nayka pá(t)lach tə́mtəm [6] kʰupa sáwásh álta. msayka kʰəpít mákuk [7]
I give heart to Native now. you.folks finish buy

‘I now give my true heart to you. Do you stop buy[-]’
(DDR) ‘me advise the Natives now. You folks, stop buy-‘

=hkook kopa mesache Boston, wake leli chahko close konaway
kʰupa más(h)áchi bástən, wík-líli chaku-ɬúsh kʰánawi 

from mean American, not-long.time become-good all
‘ing rum of bad white men, and it will soon be well with all’
(DDR) ‘ing from mean Americans; it won’t be long until they get better, all of’

Siwash. Konaway mesika tenass chahko kahkwa Boston tena[ss].
sáwásh. kʰánawi msayka tənás chaku-kákwa-bástən-tənás. 

Native. all you.folks’s child become-like-American-child. 
‘Indians[.] All your children will be like American children.’
(DDR) ‘the Natives. (And) all of your children will get (become) like American children.’

Leli hyas kly nika tumtum kwahnesum. Boston wawa nika Si-
líli hayas-kʰláy nayka tə́mtəm kwánsəm. bástən wáwa nayka sáwásh 

long.time very-cry my heart always. American tell me Native 
‘My heart has ____ [illegible] for [a] long time. The Whites tell me the Indi[-]’
(DDR) ‘My heart has cried for a long time. The Americans tell me Natives’

wash kwahnsum capsualla yakka ictah, yakka le hash, pusiss[i],
kwánsəm kaps(h)wála yaka [8] íkta, [9] yaka lahásh, pásísi, 

always steal his thing, his axe, blanket, 
‘ans are always stealing their [2 indistinct words crossed out] goods, their axes, blankets,’
(DDR) ‘always steal their things, their axes, blankets,’

shirt, sakolleks, wappatoo. pe Kwahnesum mesache Boston kokshe[t]
shát, sik’áləks, wáptʰu. pi kwánsəm más(h)áchi bástən kákshət 
shirt, pants, potato. and always mean American beat 

‘shirts, pantaloons and potatoes and bad white men are always beating’
(DDR) ‘shirts, pants, potatoes, and mean Americans keep beating on’

Siwash. Kwahnesum Siwash wawa “ikt, ikt Boston mesache kok[-]
sáwásh. kwánsəm sáwásh wáwa “íxt-ixt bástən más(h)áchi kákshət 
Native. always Native say “one-one American mean beat
‘Indians. The Indians are alwa[ys] telling me that some Whiteman or other beats’
(DDR) ‘Natives. The Natives keep saying “This or that American roughed’

shet nika. Kwahnsesum kly nika tum tum alta. Pose Siwash cope[t]
nayka. kwánsəm kʰláy nayka tə́mtəm álta. pus sáwásh kʰəpít 
me.(“) always cry my heart now. when Native finish 
‘them. My heart is sick all the time. If your Indians will stop’
(DDR) ‘me up.” My heart is always crying now. If the Natives stop’

muckamuck lum, kopet klatawa kopa mesache Boston House
mə́kʰmək lám, kʰəpít ɬátwa kʰupa más(h)áchi bástən háws [10]  
eat alcohol, finish go to mean American house(,) 
‘drinking liquor, stop going [to] the houses of bad white men,’
(DDR) ‘drinking alcohol, (and) stop going to mean American’ houses(,)’

wake leli chahko close Mesika Siwash. Mesika papa, kopa Boston
wík-líli chaku-ɬúsh msayka sáwásh [11]. msayka pápá, kʰupa bástən 
not-long.time become-good you.folks’s Native. you.folks’s father, in American 
‘it will be good for you. Your father in the American’
(DDR) ‘soon your Natives will get better. You folks’ father in the American’

illahee, wake yahka tum tum mamook mesache kopa Siwash.
ílihi, wík yaka tə́mtəm mamuk-más(h)áchi kʰupa sáwásh. 
country, not his heart Cause-bad.thing to Native,
‘Country, his heart is not to do ill to you.’
(DDR) ‘country doesn’t intend to do bad things to the Natives,’

ptelliott 3b

Alki Close nannitch Siwash kwahnesum. Spose chee Siwash
áɬqi ɬúsh-nánich [12] sáwásh kwánsəm. s[-]pus [13] chxí sáwásh 
in.future well-watch Native always. when just.then Native 
‘He will hereafter always take care of you. As soon as the Indians’
(DDR) ‘(and) will always take care of the Natives. When the Natives’

pe Governor Stevens mamook paper, nesika tyee yakka nannitch
pi gávənə* stívəns* mamuk(-)pípa [14], nsayka táyí yaka nánich Ø(;)
and governor Stevens make-writing, our chief he see it(;) 

‘and Governor Stevens have agreed on its paper. Our chief wi[ll] see it.’
(DDR) ‘and Governor Stevens have just finished writing a paper, our chief will see it(;)’

pose yakka kumtux paper, close yakka tchum, yakka name
pus [15] yaka kə́mtəks [16] pípa(,) ɬúsh(,) yaka t’sə́m [17] yaka ním 
if he know writing good, he written his name 
‘If he thinks the paper good, he will put his name’
(DDR) ‘if he understands the writing, let his name be written’

hyas close kopa paper. Spose yakka tchum paper, chee paper
hayas-ɬúsh kʰupa pípa. spus yaka t’sə́m pípa, chxí pípa 
very-good on paper. when he written paper, just.then paper 

‘to it. When he has signed it the paper will be’
(DDR) ‘very nicely on the paper. When he writes the paper, then the paper’

keelipi, pe chahko mesika dolla kopa illahee.
k’ílapay, pi cháku msayka dála kʰupa [18] ílihi. 

return, and come you.folks’s money to/for land. 
‘returned and the money will be sent for your land.’
(DDR) ‘will return, and you folks’s money will come to/for the land.’

Okook ictah mesika iskum okook sun, cultus potlatch.
úkuk íkta msayka ískam [19] úkuk-sán, kʰə́ltəs-pá(t)lach (Ø) [20]
this thing you.folks receive this-day, for.no.purpose-give/gift (they).

‘The goods that are given today are given as a present.’
(DDR) ‘These things that you folks (choose to) receive today are just a gift.’

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Konaway Siwash kumtux nika tumtum elip Boston yukwa.
kʰánawi sáwásh kə́mtəks nayka tə́mtəm íləp [21] bástən (Ø) yakwá.
all Native know my heart before American (be.located) here.
‘You all know what my opinion was before other Americans came here.’ 
(DDR) ‘All of the Natives knew my feelings before the Americans were here.’

Wake close nika na wawa kopa Siwash?
wík-ɬúsh nayka na wáwa kʰupa sáwásh? [22]
not-good I Yes/No talk to Native?
‘Did I not tell you the truth?’ 
(DDR) ‘Didn’t I talk well to the Natives?’

Close kopet alta. Alta mesika wawa Governor Stevens pe Siwash tyee.
ɬúsh kʰəpít (Ø) álta. [23] álta msayka wáwa(,) gávnə* stívəns* pi sáwásh táyí. 
good be.finished now. now you.folks talk(,) Governor Steven and Native chief.
‘Now then the Governor will speak [illegible bit in the English text] and then the Indian chiefs.’
(DDR) ‘Let it be finished now. Now you folks talk, Governor Stevens and the Native chiefs.’


This speech was made in the very early years of non-Native settlement around Puget Sound. This was before the gold rushes up north drew many more Settler types and stimulated the formation of a northern dialect.

So, what we have here is of course the southern (early-creolized) dialect of Chinuk Wawa.

One indicator of southernness is the presence of the Yes/No question particle na in one of the last lines.

Simmons uses excellent CW syntax, for example in the Verb-before-Subject word order of intransitive expressions such as ‘your hearts have been good to me’ and ‘Natives get poor’.

He also uses the fluent Chinook Jargon “silent it” pronoun, normal for all dialects (notated as “Ø” above). Similarly, Simmons deploys the “plural” use of yaka for ‘they’, which you don’t find in the dictionaries even though it’s all over the place in fluent recorded texts.

Now to the footnotes:

nayka áw ‘my brother [1] — here’s some of the earliest evidence that the earlier Chinuk Wawa kinship system, which distinguished between words for ‘older brother’ and ‘younger brother, had already simplified to using just áw ‘younger brother’. Of course, maybe Simmons was being intentionally patronizing, in harmony with the treaty makers’ insistence on calling the US President the ‘great father’…

álta [2] is translated by Simmons as ‘Since then’ and I have it as ‘Now’. Any of these wordings are fine, as long as you recognize that álta normally contains a sense of contrast with a previous condition, so you can often think of it as meaning ‘and then’ / ‘and now’.

mamuk-más(h)áchi [3] (‘make-mean’) is ‘make mischief’ for Simmons, and ‘does mean things’ in my rendering. This expression is well-documented. I just want to highlight how we can take it either as CAUSATIVE prefix mamuk- plus más(h)áchi ‘(be) bad; evil; mean; violent’, or as the verb mámuk ‘make’ plus that word. I see no evidence to decide which of these interpretations to adopt here.

lám mámuk kákwa [4] seems mildly odd to me in terms of Chinuk Wawa’s grammar. Typically an active subject, a “maker” or “doer”, has to be animate and usually human. So this expression, ‘alcohol makes it so’, sounds more like a direct translation from English than like a CW thought.

nayka sáwásh-tə́mtəm [5] is completely straightforward. A noun or adjective plus -tə́mtəm ‘heart’ gives you an understandable expression saying that a person is characteristically concerned with that thing or quality. Being sáwásh-tə́mtəm is ‘having a heart for the Natives’, just as being dála-tə́mtəm is ‘(overly) concerned with money’.

pá(t)lach tə́mtəm [6] (literally ‘give (one’s) heart’) = ‘to advise’. Compare Shaw’s 1909 dictionary with its cultus potlatch tumtum ‘to counsel, advise’, etc. (‘to give one’s heart for free’).

msayka kʰəpít mákuk [7] is translated by Simmons as a literary ‘Do you stop buying’; here I’m phrasing it as ‘You folks, stop buying’, to make clearer that this is a normal 2nd Person Plural command — these typically include the pronoun msayka ‘you folks’.

yaka [8] is being used the way so many fluent Chinuk Wawa speakers do: not as ‘she/he’, but instead as a plural ‘they’. That usage seems never to have been noted in the many oldtime dictionaries, but it’s very common, particularly in the northern dialect.

íkta (‘thing’) [9] for [2 indistinct words crossed out] in the given English text, rendered by me as ‘things’, is a bit unexpected. I would’ve thought a speaker would say íkta-s, the usual term for ‘belongings’. I’m reflecting the perceived difference in meaning by choosing the word ‘things’ instead.

más(h)áchi bástən háws [10]  (literally ‘mean American house’) is translated by Simmons as ‘the houses of bad white men’, so it appears to be a valuable new example of what I’ve previously pointed out to be a kind of Inalienable Possesion in Chinuk Wawa. (This too was never noted in the oldtime dictionaries.) Unlike regular possessives in CW, this formation leaves out the yaka or ɬaska between the possessor noun and the thing that’s possessed.

chaku-ɬúsh msayka sáwásh [11] has a blandly misleading rendition by Simmons, ‘it will be good for you’, but as my translation shows, it’s really an appeal to the sense of duty of the chiefs being addressed: ‘your Natives will get better’.

Simmons says the Great Father in the American Country (i.e. back East) doesn’t mean any harm to the Natives, but “áɬqi ɬúsh-nánich [12] sáwásh kwánsəm” (‘will take care of the Natives always’). The only speck of confusion here is that Simmons doesn’t use any coordinating or contrasting conjunction such as pi ‘and; but’ — So the bolded phrase here has no subject, and being written as if it were a separate sentence, it sounds indistinguishable from a command ‘(hey you,) take care of the Natives always!’

s[-]pus ‘when’ [13] in this text, unlike most folks’ usage of Chinuk Wawa, is distinct from pus ‘if’, seen in a later sentence. I could speculate that it’s partly influenced by local Dxʷləšucid (“Lushootseed”) Salish grammar, where possibly adding the Salish s- ‘Nominalizing’ prefix adds more definite reality to pus. That’s a speculation; Lushootseed itself doesn’t work that way! This distinction seems definitely northern-dialect to me; the south seems to have long used qʰə́nchi for ‘when’, and spus (probably influenced by informal English ‘suppose’) merely as an alternate pronunciation of pus.

mamuk(-)pípa [14] just means ‘write (a paper)’, as I’ve shown. It’s very important to recognize that Simmons’s English wording, ‘have agreed on its paper’, is misleading. The Chinuk Wawa phrasing has no implication at all of reaching agreement. In a treaty-making environment, this is a major boo-boo 😢

pus [15] shows you what I was saying in a footnote above, that spus = ‘when’, versus pus = ‘if’, in this text.

yaka kə́mtəks [16] pípa gets translated by Simmons as ‘he thinks the paper good’, but to me it’s clearly ‘he understands the writing’! The strange punctuation, a common issue in old written CW texts, is partly to blame, but so is Simmons’s and his colleagues assumption of how treaties get made.

Relatedly, the following phrase, ɬúsh yaka t’sə́m [17] yaka ním (per Simmons, ‘he will put his name’) appears to really be saying approximately ‘let his name be written’. (‘Write’ or ‘put’ a name on paper would be the Causative inflection, mamuk-t’sə́m.) These points, too, are important for demonstrating that the Native participants in the parley, none of whom would have had any prior exposure to Euro-American legal thinking, had quite a distinct understanding of what went on from what was publicly claimed by the US government.  

msayka dála kʰupa [18] ílihi — Here is another dangerously ambiguous phrasing. This is literally ‘you folks’s money [will come] to/for the land’. Those are two deeply different ideas; context would be needed to be supplied, to distinguish which was meant. Simmons translates the phrase into English as ‘the money…for your land’ — implying that he, and the US Government team, saw the treaty session as a federal purchase of territory. The other possible reading, ‘you folks’ money [will come] to the land’, would simply denote the promised payment (amply documented in the published minutes of the negotiations) from the distant “American country” sent to the Native people of Puget Sound. Nowhere in the treaty minutes, the treaty itself, or in participants’ recollections have I noticed any expression of payment for the lands being ceded. Those lands, moreover, were to remain accessible to Native people for the purposes of food gathering, and I suspect from the Native perspective, that access amounted to continued ownership. I should take a second to specify, to those who believe in the old canard perpetuated by non-experts that “Chinook Jargon is a primitive language” and “you can hardly express anything in CJ”, that it’s not at all difficult to specify in a clear way whether or not you’re paying money for something. There’s a substantial difference between (A) pʰéy(é) ‘paying’ / mákuk ‘buying’ and (B) pá(t)lach ‘giving’ / mamuk-cháku/ɬátwa ‘sending’ money. In the circumstance of the really abstract transaction of (what the Whites saw as) effectively buying the Natives’ lands, and (the Natives saw as) receiving gifts in return for letting Whites live here, it would’ve behooved the US side to make this distinction as plain as possible. 

úkuk íkta msayka ískam [19] úkuk-sán is Englished by Simmons as ‘The goods that are given today’, placing the focus on the White participants’ control of the transaction. My analysis of what’s actually said is significantly different when you take Chinuk Wawa grammar into account: ‘These things that you folks (choose to) receive today’. The verb ískam inherently denotes ‘taking’ or ‘getting’ something intentionally; that is, the taker/getter has control over the event. Again, this paints rather a different picture of how the Native participants, getting the message in CW and not in English, would perceive the treaty transaction more as a deal among equals than as terms unilaterally dictated by the US side. 

kʰə́ltəs-pá(t)lach (Ø) [20] gets our attention because the easiest way to read it is as a noun phrase, ‘present(s)’. Why is that remarkable? It’s because this is possibly the earliest occurrence of that usage, which I’ve written a good deal about. The Stevens Treaties negotiations may even have been the source of the phrase, which first shows up in print in George Gibbs’ repected 1863 dictionary of Chinook Jargon. That “silent it/they” pronoun (Ø) here is the inanimate subject, “they”. It’s hard to construe this kʰə́ltəs-pá(t)lach as an Adverb + Verb phrase (‘give for no purpose’). 

íləp [21] bástən (Ø) yakwá for ‘before the Americans were here’ is intelligible, if perhaps a bit clunky. It uses íləp as a Preposition ‘before _X_’, and that’s not a solidly documented function of this word. For essentially all speakers, íləp is an Adverb ‘(in the time) before; at first’. So here I sense English-language influence detracting from Simmons’s otherwise high Chinuk Wawa fluency; he’s not the only Settler to try using íləp this way. 

Still another point of slippage between Simmons’s English and his Jargon is wík-ɬúsh nayka na wáwa kʰupa sáwásh? [22]. The supplied translation is ‘Did I not tell you the truth?’ I read it more precisely as saying, (DDR) ‘Didn’t I talk well to the Natives?’ The implications are again very big. The Americans (US government stand-ins) had to have been consciously concerned with issues of “truth”, which are fundamental in the Anglo-Saxon legal system that we inherited. It mattered to Simmons, Stevens, and company to claim to be speaking honestly. You can express ‘truthful’ in Chinuk Wawa easily, with dléyt / drét wáwa ‘talk straight’ or nawítka wáwa ‘truly say’, for example. The fact that Simmons didn’t express himself in that way results in his having asked the Native people to simply evaluate whether he’s spoken (Chinuk Wawa?) well in the past…

ɬúsh kʰəpít (Ø) álta [23] Is untranslated in the English version. In my (DDR) analysis, this phrase is saying ‘Let it be finished now’, with the “silent it” pronoun. What is this “it”? There are two sensible answers. First, it’s customary in Pacific Northwest Native discourse, and consequently in Chinuk Wawa, to end your turn “having the floor” (whether telling a story, or just talking a long time at one “turn” in a conversation) by saying some version of “that’s all”. So Simmons may have been showing proper manners with this expression. Second, though, due to his saying something further after this phrase, an impression is given that he’s urging for the treaty negotiations to be finished up, without further discussion. Again, there are substantial implications for what the Native participants understood him, as a representative of the “Great Father”, to be saying and wanting. 

Bonus fact:

Here you can look at the provided English translation of Simmons’s Chinook Jargon speech.


qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?