In 2014 Jay Powell was the only remaining fluent speaker of Chinook Jargon in British Columbia. He had learned it from elders while he was creating dictionaries and learning materials for endangered west coast languages. He met Sam Sullivan, former Mayor of Vancouver, and told him of his concern for the language. Sullivan committed to doing his best to revive the language in BC.
Professor Powell had developed a Chinook Jargon curriculum at Langara College which UBC had accepted for credit courses. Sullivan retrieved Powell’s course materials from the Museum of Anthropology archives and organized several small teaching sessions. In September 2015 at the Olympic Village they organized an immersion weekend which was well covered in the media and another at the Hastings Mill in June 2016 with almost 50 learners at each.
Margaret Sutherland and Rein Stamm attended these events. Margaret developed the BC Chinook Jargon website; Rein, whose Chinook name is Snass started a weekly Skype online learning session in July 2018 which we now call the Snass Session in honour of his tenacity and discipline. In April 2019 the sessions moved to Zoom using materials provided by world renowned Chinook scholar Dave Robertson, a consultant to the project, who began facilitating the sessions in September 2019.
The Snass Sessions, sometimes only attended by Sullivan and Snass at the beginning, became a touch stone and motivator to an astonishing variety of independent activities. Will you help bring to life the vision of Jay Powell? We need you to get involved so that Chinook Jargon can be spoken once again in British Columbia!
The video below shows Sam Sullivan interviewing Jay Powell partly in Chinook Jargon:
Chinook Jargon in British Columbia follows an unbroken line back to Fort Vancouver and beyond. Jay Powell has a vision that this line should not end with him but that others will learn the language and continue that line well into the future.
Under the BC Chinook Jargon Initiative, Sam Sullivan has been organizing learning seminars since 2015 and weekly online learning sessions since 2019. In the Fall of 2023, these online sessions expanded to accommodate diverse needs. There are more educational resources for schools, speech clubs and individual learners. A special effort is being made to teach Chinook Pepa, the shorthand writing system that was used for the newspapers Kamloops Wawa and Sugarcane TinTin as well as hundreds of letters written by indigenous people just over 100 years ago.
Chinook Jargon was used just over 100 years ago by indigenous and non-indigenous communities to communicate with each other. Most of the traditional languages in British Columbia have dozens of words borrowed from Chinook Jargon which testifies to the widespread use by First Nations.
This website provides access to some of the most important Chinook Jargon archival material translated by Dave Robertson as well as video of this material being presented. We invite you to use all of this material free of charge to develop your own skills or to organize a learning community. Please help achieve the vision of Jay Powell that Chinook Jargon be used once again by fluent speakers in British Columbia!