The Mission Field and “Chinhook” (Part 3 of 6)

Victoria, British Columbia, was already a highly cosmopolitan town by 1862, making Chinuk Wawa an indispensable tool for everyone there.


Garrett (image credit: Wikipedia)


I’m fascinated how the missionary A.C. Garrett calls all Salish speech of southeast Vancouver Island, BC a single “Tsawmus” language, when

  • these are actually considered to be multiple languages by modern linguists, and
  • “Tsawmus” ~ c̓áməs is the widespread Indigenous name for the town of Victoria, denoting the church spires as I recall Kwakwaka’wakw elder Freda Shaughnessy telling me.

Garrett was aware of the huge diversity of languages in urban Victoria, though, and he responded to it:

Until recently I was not sufficiently master of the language to preach to them in it…I have been thrice to ‘Saanich’ since I have become able to preach in Indian…When I had them all assembled at ‘Tsaw-tlp,’ the chief came up to me and said, “You won’t be long, will you? I want to work at my house.’ I replied I would not, and proceeded to give out a Chinook hymn; after the singing I offered a short prayer, and then preached to them. They soon became attentive, and ere long I could see that my friend, the chief, had forgotten all about the house, and was busied with the strange things brought to his ears. When I concluded, he said, ‘That’s new; we never heard that before.’

. . .

In addition to those speaking the ‘Tsawmus’ language, I have charge of all those Indians from the North, of various tribes and tongues, who come here from time to time for the purpose of trade. Hydah [Haida], Tsimshean [Tsimshian], Bill Bella [Bella Bella], Coghold [Kwakiutl?], Stickeen [Tlingit] are peoples of different languages, warlike habits, and savage nature. Members from all of these have, at times, composed the main, though diverse elements of my school, with, of course, the ‘Tsawmus’ for a kind of substratum. With all these hetero- geneous races the ‘Tsawmus’ language is, of course, useless; and I am obliged to use the Chinook jargon as a medium of communication, until it shall please God to give me strength and energy to master other tongues. At present there are about 250 Northern Indians here.

— from the Mission Field, Vol. 7, Issue of April 1, 1862, page 90

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?