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Tribal Homelands and Cultures: The Challenge



Chinook Wawa West of the Divide

T he tribes living west of the mountains, in the land beyond the Louisiana Purchase, had developed a trade language known as "Chinook Jargon" or "Chinook Wawa." Tony Johnson teaches Chinook Wawa on the Grande Ronde Reservation in Oregon. He explains the origins of this unique trade language:

Language specialist Tony Johnson and son, Sam

The Chinookan languages are the original languages from along the Columbia here, where Chinook Wawa developed out of a need for people to communicate that didn't have a common language.

There are people who would argue that it's actually a post-contact language, that is, it came out of just the fur trade and all that. I would tend to argue the other way - that this language existed before. Most of its words and most of its grammar surely come from the native languages here. It has, ten percent of it is French, ten percent of it is English, so the English portion of Chinook Wawa probably came in right at the beginning of fur trade. (Tony Johnson interview: 2002)

Chinook words for the wood used to build canoes and paddles discussed by Tony Johnson. Tony built a Chinook canoe using traditional materials and methods.


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