July 15th, 2023 Snass Session: Pipa Letter Chief Le Jeune Narcisse

Snass Sessions: Young Chief Narcisse’s political activist letter, May 19, 18941

David Douglas Robertson, PhD

Consulting linguist, Spokane, WA, USA

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1 This is one of several letters by Chief Narcisse that are preserved. He is also mentioned in other Indigenous people’s

letters, as well as in the Kamloops Wawa newspaper. His descendants are still an important family at Neskonlith, BC.

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Mi < 19, 1894 >

‘May 19, 1894’

Naika maikaaika* shawash tiki kos* wawa kopa msaika, Shawash taii.

‘I youou* Native want in order to* to talk to you folks, the Native chiefs.’

Alta naika chako komtaks3 msaika tomtom kopa ukuk nsaika mamuk,

kopa tlus mamuk.

‘Now I’m coming along to know your hearts about what we’re doing, about the good work.’

Naika tlus tomtom pus kakwa, pus nawitka, pus chako-iht msaika tomtom kopa ukuk mamuk

kopa kanawi-kah ilihi.

‘I’ll be happy if it’s so, if truly, if you folks’ hearts get together for this work in all of the (Native)


Tanas-ankati tanas naika ka kwash- kopa ukuk tomtom, kopa iht ilihi, kopa iht-iht ilihi,

pus ilo kakwa klaska tomtom kanamukst.

‘A while ago a little I ?* was afraid about this in my heart, that in some certain village, in this and that

village, that folks might not be feeling so united.’

Alta naika nanich, msaika tomtom chako-kanamukst.

‘Now I can see that you folks’ hearts have joined together.’

Tlus mamuk-skukum masaika tomtom kopa kanwi- kah kah ilihi, pus chako iht* nawitka masaika

chako-iht tomtom nsaika tomtom.

‘Strengthen your hearts in every where village everywhere, so they unite truly you folks’ our hearts

hearts unite.’

Pus kakwa, nsaika chako-skukum nsaika tomtom, pus kopa ikta nsaika tiki

wawa, kakwa-pus iht nsaika lapus kopa kanawi-kah ilihi.

‘If they do, we’ll be strengthened (in) our hearts, so in whatever we want to be saying, it’ll be like our

mouths are (speaking as) one in all the villages everywhere.’

Kaltash pus ilo naika komtaks iht ilihi; naika wawa kopa kanawi- kah ilihi, kopa Katolik tilikom.

‘It doesn’t matter if I don’t know a certain village; I’m talking to all villages everywhere, to the

Catholic (Native) people.’

Kopit naika wawa kopa ukuk.

‘That’s all I’ll say about this.’

Klahawiam, kanawi taii, naika Narsis, taii kopa Shushwap.

‘Goodbye, all the chiefs, I’m Narcisse, chief at Shuswap (Lake).’

2 Material < in angled brackets > is not in Chinuk Pipa shorthand in the original document. Material that is struck

through was scratched out by the writer. *Asterisks* mark material whose reading we are uncertain of. The punctuation

marks and sentence breaks were added by me.

3 Alternatively, we could read chako-komtaks here (with the prefix chako-) would mean ‘learning, finding out’.

shptin*4 Wiht ikta mamuk nsaika naika tiki wawa tanas:

‘Think* Also why are we I want to say a little more:’

Ikta mamuk nsaika min nim “taii”, “Shawash taii”?

‘Why are we llaced called “chiefs”, “Native chiefs”?’

Kaltash nsaika mitlait nim “taii”.

‘It’s ridiculous that we have the name of “chief”.’

Kaltash ukuk nim.

‘This name is worthless.’

Mitlait taii kopa nsaika. < X >5

‘There are (real) chiefs among us.’

Nsaika nanich ukuk nim mitlait gavmint kopa gavmint.

‘We can see that this name belongs government to the government.’

Klaska tolo klaska son, klaska tolo klaska mun.

‘They’ve conquered their sun, they’ve conquered their moon.’

Pus iaka6 mitlait nim “taii” pi nsaika, Shawash taii, ilo-ikta nsaika nanitsh ikta tanas ikta kopa ukuk

ilihi* tanas-ikta kopa ukuk ilihi, tlus nsaika trai mamuk.

‘If they own the name of “chief” and we, the Native chiefs, see nothing, a thing slightest thing in this

life the slightest thing in this life, let’s try taking action.’

Msaika,7 tomtom kopa ukuk naika wawa kopa msaika!

‘You folks, think about what I’m saying to you!’

Kata alki nsaika mamuk8 pus nsaika tlus mitlait kopa ukuk ilihi?9

‘What are we supposed to do so we can live decently on this earth?’

4 Shptin*: This seems likely to indicate the writer slipping into his native language Secwepemctsín (Shuswap Salish),

possibly starting to write sptínesem ‘thoughts’ (tomtom in this letter’s Chinook Jargon).

5 The punctuation mark < X > seems to typically signal a deeply felt emotion. Possibly it’s a symbol for making the

Catholic “Sign of the Cross” gesture.

6 The use of iaka for ‘they’ (not just for ‘she’ and ‘he’) is common in northern-dialect Chinuk Wawa.

7 Commands made to multiple people typically include the pronoun msaika. That’s to say, they aren’t just the bare verb


8 Kata alki nsaika mamuk is a common enough exasperated expression for ‘what the heck are we supposed to do?!’

9 Kopa ukuk ilihi commonly means either ‘on this earth’ or ‘in this life’.

Naika komtaks, kopit S[ahali] T[aii] hilp.10

‘I realize, only God can help.’

Pi naika nanich, pus klaksta-man11 mamuk kopa ukuk ilihi, iaka tolo tanas-ikta pus iaka tlus mitlait

kopa ukuk ilihi.

‘But I can see, if anyone works in this life, he can a little something so he can live decently on this


Tlus pus msaika nanich ikta naika wawa.

‘You folks need to take a look at what I’m saying.’

Tlus aiak msaika mamuk-kilapai-wawa kopa naika pus ikta msaika tomtom kopa ukuk naika

wawa kopa masaika.

‘You should hurry up and answer me how your hearts are about what I’m saying to you folks.’

na Nawitka naika tanas-man, ilo naika komtaks ikta.

‘It It’s true I’m a young man, I don’t know things.’

Pus ilo naika drit wawa kopa masaika, tlus masaika patlach drit tomtom kopa naika.

‘If I’m not talking straight to you folks, please give the right ideas to me.’

Kopit naika wawa.

‘I’m done talking.’

Klahawiam. t[ili]kom*

‘Goodbye, f[rie]nds.’

Naika Narsis, taii, Shushwap.

‘I’m Narcisse, chief, Shuswap (Lake).’

Gud bai, Pir Lshyun, ai shi yu som taim daws dawn t Kamlups.12

‘Goodbye, P.re Le Jeune, I see you some time dows down to Kamloops.’

10 The last word in this line might instead be ilip, that is, saying ‘God is first’. Thanks to Alex Code for suggesting the

reading as hilp here.

11 In northern CW, we can use klaksta to modify a following noun N, expressing ‘any N’.

12 Here Narcisse switches into English as spoken by him