“Native Peoples of the Olympic Peninsula: Who We Are”

Jacilee Wray wrote a very good book on “Native Peoples of the Olympic Peninsula: Who We Are” (2002: University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK) that I recommend to you.


Image credit: Thriftbooks

This really well-researched volume provides you with a Native perspective and some solid cultural and historical sense of each tribal grouping along Washington state’s far western coast. It’s got some information that I know my readers will be happy to hear, including at least one new Chinook discovery!

Speaking of ancient linguistic customs that continued into modern times, Wray observes (page 4) that “Many people spoke more than one language and also used the regional trade language, Chinook Jargon.”

On pages 9-10, we’re told of “[t]he Quileute word for early European voyagers who traveled along the out Pacific Coast…Hokwat‘, which means “drifting house people.” Wray adds that “The word poston or pástəd is also used to refer to Europeans. This is a Chinook Jargon term first used to describe John Jacob Astor’s traders who came from Boston in 1811.” I do have to correct that claim, because it’s abundantly clear that this use of the word “Boston” has to date back to the late 1700s, the pre-CJ era when a nebulous “Nootka Jargon” was taking shape along the coast.

Page 24 reproduces a photo of two men, one of whom was known as wəqinəxən a.k.a. Boston Charlie “because he had adopted some ways of the whites early one and was one of the Klallam who homesteaded in the Elwha valley”.

A map on page 67 of Skokomish traditional settlement sites and resource locations has a significant cluster of Chinook Jargon place names at the far southern reach of Hood Canal: Tillicum Beach, Potlatch, Potlatch State Park, and Enetai. The latter is a spelling of ínatay ‘across; the other side’.

Another map, on page 84, of “The Seven Inlets of South Puget Sound”, includes Little Skookum Inlet.

Page 86 tells us of a no longer existing county of Washington Territory: “In 1853 the county surrounding the narrow inlet of Big Skookum (a Chinook Jargon term for ‘strong’), now known as Hammersley Inlet was named in honor of the Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish people. Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish [actually “Sawamish” — DDR] continued to be the name of the county until 1864, when the name was changed to Mason County.”

Following this is the information that “On Christmas Day in 1854, the Treaty of Medicine Creek was negotiated in Chinook Jargon, a trade language inadequate to convey the complex issues of treaty making.” This is an often-repeated characterization of CJ in the treaty-making context (repeated on page 129 about the Treaty of Olympia a.k.a. Quinault River Treaty; see also page 157 re: the Makah Treaty), and it’s broadly valid.

It’s just that the truth is more nuanced, for example in that by 1854 CJ had already “creolized” into the full home language of a couple of generations of Métis people spanning from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, through the southeast edge of the Olympic Peninsula and across Puget Sound to Forts Langley and Victoria in BC. The catch here is that the Native tribes who were talked into the “Stevens Treaties” with the US government did not know CJ as a home language, but instead as a pidgin that folks typically picked up only as adults and used only in a capacity secondary to one’s mother tongue. So the crucial issue, in my professional analysis, was that Native people and Settlers didn’t share a nuanced enough version of any language to share a stable mutual understanding of what these treaties were talking about.

Page 108 mentions a very early contact between Quinaults and Europeans: “On July 14, 1775, the frigate Santiago, with the Spanish naval officer Bruno de Hezeta, and the schooner Sonora, commanded by Juan de Ayala and Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, were anchored along the coast of Quinault territory. Early in the ‘morning a canoe with nine Indians approached the Frigate [Santiago], making gestures of friendship, and inviting [the crew] to go to their settlement…They gave [the sailors] some fish and exchanged some otter skins.” (This citation is of Wagner and Baker 1930:227.) I point this anecdote out to highlight for my readers once again that there was no trade language and no established verbal communication between Native and Newcomer on the Northwest coast in 1775. “Nootka Jargon” took vague shape soon after this, and one local variant of NJ rapidly evolved into the pidgin, and then creole, Chinook Jargon.

Page 108 also refers, passingly, to “Black Klokwalle spirits”, which is surely a synonym for the well-known northern Olympic Peninsula term in Chinuk Wawa, ɬíʔil t’əmánəwas (‘black tamanawas’), for a particular secret religious society. It was distinguished from the píl t’əmánəwas (‘red tamanawas’). The word “Klokwalle” is also a widely used loanword on the Oly Pen, coming from a Vancouver Island language in the Wakashan family.

There’s mention on page 142 of a place name in Quileute territory, Tyee Prairie. I’m very glad the author discusses the fact that such prairies were traditionally “maintained” (cultivated) for harvesting certain plant species!

That same page quotes Luke Hobucket’s telling of the traditional story about how these prairies were created by a battle between Thunderbird and Mimlos-whale. The latter is evidently a newly discovered Chinook Jargon phrase for ‘killer whale’ (orca); the older, southern CW dialect words ikuli (from Chinookan) or kʰanis (from Salish) don’t seem to have been known in these northern CW dialect regions. Instead it was characteristic for English words to come into the Jargon in the north.

I just wanted to share these few Chinuk Wawa-related highlights from a splendid book. You should go read the entire thing!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?