1887: Chinuk Wawa essential for BC Indian Agent

People fought political fights over the appointment of a Mr. Fagan as Indian agent in BC’s late frontier period…

…But they agreed the holder of that office should know Chinook Jargon!


Indian agent William Halliday, because I couldn’t track down Mr. Fagan (image credit: Northern Vancouver Island — The Undiscovered Coast)

That’s how widely — and quite accurately — Settler folks understood the importance of Chinuk Wawa in the province.

There’s an element of confirmation bias in that opinion of theirs, of course. Circular reasoning. The Jargon was most used where there were Settlers present! What I mean to highlight by saying this is, the Jargon wasn’t so much of a factor in the less- and latest- Newcomer-dominated areas of the province, such as its northeast. 

In any event, a candidate for BC Indian Agent advanced in the public esteem if he knew this unique regional language that Settlers had a lot of emotional identity invested in.

Here’s the argument: 

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The Victoria Times of Saturday and the Vancouver Herald of Monday have editorial articles commenting upon the appointment of Mr. Fagan as Indian agent for the north-west. In the Vancouver News also one or two little paragraphs appeared some time ago on the same subject. So far as any public notice has been taken of the appointment, it has been universally condemned. The ground of this condemnation is two-fold. First, it is objected that Mr. Fagan has had no opportunity of making himself acquainted with the language and manners of the Indians, both of which are essential to the success of an Indian agent. In the second place it has been claimed that Mr. Fagan, being a Catholic, ought not to be appointed to administer the affairs of Indians who are all Protestant. But Mr. Fagan himself denies that he is unacquainted with the language or manners of the natives. He claims to be able to talk Chinook, and that his training is such as to qualify him in a special way for the duties of the office to which he has been appointed. We have expressed no opinion on this appointment, or on any appointment made by our present representative, Mr. Donald [? and the rest of the line is unreadable]…COLUMBIAN was the only newspaper in British Columbia that opposed Mr. Chisholm’s election; but since the electors thought fit to entrust him with the representation and patronage of the constituency against the earnest protest of this paper, if the result is not satisfactory it may be as well to let Mr. Chisholm’s friends fight it out among themselves. The appointment of superintendent of Dominion works in this city, which, we believe, has had to be cancelled, has produced a most unfavorable impression, and the persons who did the kicking were among his chief supporters. The case of Mr. Fagan is very different, but for some reason it does not meet the approval of the party either. 

— New Westminster (BC) Daily British Columbian of August 17, 1887, page 2, column 1

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