The Journals of George M. Dawson: British Columbia, 1875-1878 (VOLUME 2)

(Here’s a link to Volume 1.)

One of our really good resources on BC Chinuk Wawa — which is far and away the best-documented variety of the language — is the jottings of geologist & surveyor George Mercer Dawson.


George Mercer Dawson (image credit: Not Your Grandfather’s Mining Industry)

The Northern Dialect of CW is different, in consistent ways, from its older sibling, the Southern / early-creolized / Grand Ronde CW.

You’ll find more English words in it, simply because there were more speakers of English varieties playing a big role in the mix of cultures north of the Columbia River.

Why do I say “English varieties”? Well, many BC CW words are apparently Chinese Pidgin English in origin, going to show you for the millionth time a point that I’ve made for years: pidgins tend to co-occur.

Other BC CW words are transparently taken from the most informal folksy lingo used in daily life by Settlers, thus the cussin’ and slang (like “jawbone”).

GM Dawson’s journals show us plenty of these patterns. I’ll be preserving his spellings, Capitalization, and punctuation in what follows. He has a strong habit of placing actually observed local words into “quotation marks”, signaling to us some probable new BC Chinook Jargon discoveries. I’ll supply my own translations, as those of the editors are inexpert and sometimes very inaccurate.

It’s nice to see that Dawson meets many of the same folks we know to have been Chinuk Pipa writers and Jargon speakers 15+ years later!

Some of the following supplies us with additional material that can be “back-translated” into the Chinook Jargon that it was originally spoken in…any of my readers care to take on that challenge?

Page 339, in 1877, in southern interior BC’s region, quoting a Native man:

Johnny has just given us a remark on a bird singing on a tree near by. He says it “wa-wa all same Siwash la langue” & says do not steal, or words to that effect. The curious part of it is though that the Lytton, Kamloops, & Similkameen dialects are somewhat different, & the bird he affirms & really believes, speaks in each locality the dialect there spoken by the Indians.

The above are in fact considered 3 distinct Salish languages by modern linguists!

The following page has Johnny’s above remarks amplified, reflecting more of the Chinuk Wawa that he must’ve been speaking when telling about the bird — and his sense of humor in the language:

Johnny’s “Hilo Capswallow” bird caused some amusement today. To cook lunch he took a bar off the Indians fence, & shortly afterwards the moral bird perched on a tree near us kept reiterating his advice not to steal. On calling Johnny’s attention to the fact he was vastly amused, & a little consciense struck; but eventually he called it a “Cultus Chicken”

Page 344:

Johnny, who knows this part of the country, tells me that Sxoocum L[ake] of the map, receives a large stream from the Mountains, & discharges into Primeewash L, which again runs through “the Railway” to Long Lake, the latter flowing out into the head of Okanagan Lake.

Page 360, at Neskonlith / Chase in eastern Secwepemc territory:

The Chief, anxious to keep things smooth on the eve of the Commissioners visit, appeared to think I might be offended at the demands of his Indians, & volunteered the information that if he had a canoe, it would be at my service for nothing, but that the Canoes I wanted did not belong to him & he could not make the owners part with them. He appeared very anxious that I should walk round & see his garden, — a few patches of potatoes & vegetables, irregular & unfenced — & especially that I should see his “ians” (onions) I supposed that he wanted me to buy some, but went with him, & found that it was his intension to make me a present. With many well sounding words, — rendered for me into Chinook by an attendant satelite — as to the Klooshness of his tum tum &c. he pulled up a handfull of the largest of his little onions, & with a majestic wave of the arm presented them to me. I could not do otherwise than accept, & complement him on the beauty & fertility of his gardens; & in the afternoon took the opportunity of reciprocating, by presenting him with some tobacco 

Page 371:

Met two Canoes with Kloochmen going up the lake, both of which fought a little shy of our Pseudomorph — with becoming modesty (?) but entered into conversation readily enough when spoken to. The great news that Hi you Salmon have come up the little lake, also that Louis the Kamloops Chief had fallen from his horse & been nearly or quite Killed.

Louis Chief, of Tk’emlups, was a speaker not only of Chinook Jargon but also of Métis French.

Near Princeton, BC, page 398:

Mr Indian…seemed to think my operations rather long, & gently hinted that it was very Cold, also that wake Si-a copete Sun…Finally, wrapping up my treasures in my handkerchief, I crossed the river as before, & bundling up our ictus, we set out for camp, reaching it just before dark, Cold, wet, tired, & hungry.

Page 401:

Many Indians now collected here, from different parts of the country, & more expected. The exact nature of the “play” I cannot understand, when all arrive there is to be a sort of cultus potlatch, & some Ceremonial burying of the dead, or rather reburying; the bones being done up in white cloths.

Page 422:

All looking dirty enough, but fat & happy, clad in such rags as no dealer in second hand clothes would care to put a price to, but which while in organic connection with the Siwash not looking so bad after all. On meeting the first man, who was riding ahead, & who carried his gun, I said in a tone intended to express surprise — “What! have you killed no deer!” Oh said he Hi-you Mowich Chaco, waving his hand in a triumphant manner toward the hill; & sure enough in a few minutes the party in the order above described, & with the Mowich, appeared. They lead on the whole truly careless shiftless (in more sense than one) but happy lives; …digging up their little patch of potatoes, — for they nearly all have “gardens” Somewhere…

I direct your attention to the fact that the word “garden” keeps showing up in association with BC Chinuk Wawa, e.g. in a couple dozen issues of the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, and in the name of a Native tribe near the above locale, the “Potatoes Illahee / Potato Gardens Band”.

Page 466, in Haida Gwaii:

Asked for the chief Capt. Clue So called…A couple of boxes brought out on which a well educated Siwash asked Self & R in tolerable English, to sit down. These placed near Clue, & the Indian having first asked who was tyie accordes the nearest post to Clue to me…he was evidently waiting in some state, & all in order to receive a large party of Skidegate Indians who are expected, & are to join in a bee or potlatch the occasion of which the erection of a new house

The footnote to Clue’s name equates it with “one of his highest names Xeu’ (meaning ‘the southeast’).” I wonder if it’s from the Haida Jargon, really a variant of the pan-NW Coast “Nootka Jargon”, in which the word clue meant ‘ship’.

Page 470, a Haida leader displays his skookum papers:

The Chief Skedan…Presented his “papers” which simply said that he was a good sort of Indian &c. &c…Skedan says very few indians here at present, nearly all in “Vic-toi” village occupies an exposed situation on a gravelly neck at the point South of Cumshewas H[arbo]r. It bristles with “posts” & must be more carefully examined.

Page 471:

Told by the Indians that only three kinds of mammals in the Haida illihie…

Page 491:

All the Indians, or nearly all about here have a perforation through the septum of the nose. When asking “Mills” what the use of it he explained by saying spose hilo connoway Siwash hi-you hi-hi. This like other marked events in life marked by a potlatch. The nose is perforated at from two to five years old, according to my informant, the father on the occasion Hi-you mache ictus., or gives away inpotlatch much property. 

Page 499, on the important role of Victoria, BC in expanding Native people’s linguistic repertoires; also some reported inofrmation on the Haida Gwaii landscape:

…in Victoria, & have learnt various “white” ways, including the use of oaths & slang…The stream a large one, navigable by Canoes, though said to be impeded by sticks. Said to flow at no great distance, out of a great fresh water lake, on which the Indians have a canoe, or Canoes.

Of no connected interest, but surprising to me, on the same page Dawson uses a slang phrase I only knew from mid-20th century: “A bad headache today rendered work a drag.”

Page 527, in Kwakwaka’wakw territory:

Now he says the white men have come & the Indians Chaco mamaloose, Chaco mamaloos, & Soon there will be none…The Indians he says do not know how to explain it, but as he says — Klunas saghalie tyee Mamook

Further down the page, Dawson mentions a “Chief Chip” (Cheap on page 528) — but I suspect that this supposed name is actually an Indigenous pronunciation of the English word chief, which would’ve been heard a lot from White folks.

Page 528, at “Nawitti Indian Village”, far northern Vancouver Island, mentions that there’s a

…small carved “totem post” in front of the Chief’s (Cheap) house.

Page 529, in the vicinity of Cape Scott and Quatsino: 

one Indian canoe came off to us, with a man, woman & small boy, but quite unversed in Chinook, & satisfactory communication impossible…Found Indian village & got an Indian as guide to the Coal locality, who could speak a little Chinook, but very little. On landing at the village find all the people collected in front of one of the houses & as I Came up all joined in repeated chorus of Cla-hoya tyee & Klooshe, the two Chinook terms they seemed to understand. These they repeated over & over again together with much in their own language that I could not understand. They evidently very seldom see strangers & appeared in their manner quite as though apprehensive that I had all the power, & might want to use it, by which they might be annihilated in a moment.

Page 530, at Koprino Harbour:

The Indians a little forward, but appear good humoured & some of them Can talk good Chinook.

Same page, Hecate Cove:

The Indians here know very little Chinook & are quite unsofisticated.

Page 531, nearby:

One old woman especially troublesome. Knowing a little Chinook she presumed on this to come down into Cabin, had a great deal to say, & wanted to see everything.

Pages 531-532:

…to Coal Harbour…[One local man] Could speak very little Chinook, but his wife, who sat in the bow of the Canoe, & was rather pleasing in appearance but for the peculiarly elongated head, Caused him to employ all the Chinook he knew in asking in succession for every imaginable article, as a Kultus potlatch — fish-hooks, needles, thread, pipes, Soap, tobacco, &c. &c. The man also requested me not to fire off my gun as it would frighten the salmon, which are now in great numbers in all parts of the inlet, & can be seen jumping whenever a breeze ripples the water. Also requested that we would not have fires on the beach at night, as this would also frighten away the fish!…Our guide [has] a pig-tail or que which he wears tied round his head, having given over Cutting his hair in the hope of becomming a “doctor” … He is rather a dunder-headed individual, not fluent in Chinook, of which his pronunciation is bad. He is heavy on Nowitka, but gives it as Nowitti…our guide at Quatsino told me a story, which I could not quite understand, about the otter carrying a Stone” under his should — below the arm — with which he breaks the Clams.

Page 535, North Harbour:

Visited by a couple of old Indians & several youngsters in a canoe. Had come down from the village on seeing the schooner come in, bringing their Credentials (“papers”) with them. Could speak scarcely any Chinook but Potlatch Tyee! Clahoya