Chinook Wawa is intimately linked with the history of British Columbia. It was widely spoken 100 years ago throughout the province by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, but today there is only one remaining speaker who learned it from native elders. Despite this, older people in British Columbia still use Chinook words in their vocabulary and there are hundreds of place names around the province. Chinook Wawa was developed at a time of mutual respect and is an inspiration for the future.
Professor Jay Powell has the dedicated his life to helping revitalize First Nations languages and his relationships with speakers enabled him to learn Chinook Wawa.
Jay wrote a curriculum which he taught at Langara College in the 1970s. Students used this as a language credit to get into UBC. But no one has maintained the language as Professor Powell has called for.
The BC Chinook Wawa Group is looking for people to respond to the call of Jay Powell and commit to learning the language and reviving it in our province. This will be no easy task and will take great effort.
Let us know if you would like to get involved!
Chinook Wawa was spoken widely by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people throughout the British territory of Columbia, which extended from California north including the Alaska Panhandle. The legal government was the Honourable Hudson Bay Company although its status was unsettled with the territory open to both US and British citizens.
The first and second Governors of Columbia were John McLoughlin and James Douglas, who both spoke Chinook Wawa and were based in the original Vancouver, now in Washington State, which served as the administrative headquarters and capital.
Although Chinook Wawa likely came from aboriginal antecedents, its first unambiguous documented record of its existence as a language was among the children at Fort Vancouver. The first word list was written by a teacher at the school (c.1832) and a missionary from the United States (c.1834) who wrote that the children spoke it as their first language. Many of these young people had French-speaking fathers and Chinook-speaking mothers.
When the first Catholic Priest Modeste Demers arrived from Quebec to support Canadian settlers in 1838, he immediately set to work studying and documenting the language. The aboriginal people who taught him told him that the language had arisen from the Hudson Bay Company milieu and that it spread throughout the west coast through the Company trading networks.
The 1846 Border Treaty gave all the territory south of the 49th parallel to the USA. A governor and the US Army arrived in 1849, and the Hudson Bay Company eventually withdrew. Fort Colville closed in 1870. Governor James Douglas moved his government from Vancouver to Victoria and became the first Governor of British Columbia. Modeste Demers became the first Bishop of British Columbia.
During the 1858 Gold Rush, miners from the USA wrote that those wanting to come to the gold fields should bring a Chinook Wawa dictionary. Chinook Wawa spread throughout the province and was used extensively for communication. The largest employer in Vancouver, the Hastings Mill, operated in Chinook and many people used it in their homes. Chinese and Japanese people learned Chinook Wawa before they learned English and it was used extensively in logging camps and canneries.
Father Lejeune in Kamloops modified a French shorthand to write Chinook Wawa which was quickly learned by aboriginal people throughout the interior. He published a newspaper using the new script called the Kamloops Wawa from the 1880s into the early 1900s. This and the numerous letters written in this script remains as the largest body of written Chinook Wawa that exists.
BC Chinook Wawa is inspired by the example of the Kamloops Wawa newspaper that was published in the later part of the 1800s and the early 1900s. Using a type of French shorthand, the newspapers, letters and advertisements from those days constitute the largest body of Chinook Wawa writing.
The internationally recognized expert on Kamloops Wawa is linguist David Robertson. Visit his site at https://chinookjargon.com/
Robertson has studied this documentation for years and is a tremendous resource for many other aboriginal languages as well.
You can see an example of the Kamloops Wawa writing here:
This is the front page of the Kamloops Wawa newspaper from January 8, 1893, written in the script above. See if you can translate some of it!