1883: Sarah Winnemucca has opinions about Chinook Jargon in education

A Native author and activist had her own views about educating kids in Chinuk Wawa that might surprise you…


Image credit: Yosemite.ca.us

Paiute woman Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins (circa 1844-1891) cared and spoke up a great deal about the well-being and good treatment of Indigenous people and their kids.

Trained in several languages from childhood at her grandfather’s (Chief Truckee’s) request, she worked as an intercultural interpreter in many different situations.

She went on to write an autobiography, the book “Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims“. Read it for free at that link.

Among her other accomplishments, Sarah Winnemucca taught school at Fort Vancouver, around 1879, which is where she met US President Rutherford B. Hayes. Perhaps he’s yet another President who experienced Chinook Jargon, joining the company of Lincoln, Grant, Taft et al.

But maybe that’s not the place she refers to in the following account. I wonder if she herself picked up CJ? She was certainly sufficiently gifted.

This is quoted from Sarah Winnemucca’s letter to Senator John A. Logan, datelined Bozeman, Montana [Territory], Jan. 17, 1883:

Screenshot 2023-02-14 110806

I have been
connected with Indian agencies from child-
hood, and I know whereof I speak when I say
the system of schooling Indian children, as
now practised, is a farce of the first water. I
can recall a half-dozen agencies where 1 have
been, and where teachers with 50 children on
the books and five in the school are draw-
ing their pay, and scarcely a child can
be found who knows a word of En-
glish, unless it is Moody and Sank-
ey’s hymns, which seem to be used
for spelling book, reader, arithmetic, geogra-
phy and everything else. I know of one
agency in particular in Washington territory
that has been under Christian rule for 20 years,
and yet the children sing and pray in Chinook
jargon, and the few who speak English do so
mechanically, and have no idea of the defini-
tion of a single word. I have taught school at
several places, and my last effort was at Van-
couver barracks, Washington territory. I was
given charge of 18 Indian children, who were
as ignorant as they possibly could be. I taught
them about one year and Cols Chambers (2lst
infantry) and Mason (4th infantry) and other
officers of the army, can testify to the advance-
ment made by them, and why cannot my pale
face sister or brother teach them? I can tell
you, I knew a gentleman who was employed at
my agency as a teacher, and he had himself a
blackboard made. He said he would be better
able to teach the alphabet in that way. I
thought it a good idea, but changed my mind a
day or two after when I saw these signs on it,
viz.: “$ $.” “c’s c’s.” [¢] It showed me the
channel his thoughts ran in. It has been the
desire of my life that my people should be edu-
cated not only in books, but in tilling the soil,
etc., and I have labored for years to that end,
and have met with such poor encouragement I
have given it up. 

— from “The Indian Question” in the Portland (OR) Daily Press of February 15, 1883, page 2, columns 2-3

Was Sarah Winnemucca’s low opinion of classes given in Chinuk Wawa due to an acquaintance with the language combined with her obvious preference for learning the literary English of the powers-that-be?

Or was it due to an ignorance of the Jargon?

Or some other reason?

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?