Tony Johnson: Chinook Wawa, a “Good Inheritance.”

Tony Johnson (Chinook) talks about the Chinuk Wawa pidgin language, and how it was passed down to families because of its importance in contact between cultures. 1:49.

Bio: Tony Johnson is the tribal chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, as well as the chair of the tribal cultural committee. He is also the Cultural Education Director for the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe.


“And Chinuk Wawa is what originally is a pidgin language, a pre-contact pidgin language, that people used if you met somebody that you didn’t otherwise know you used Chinuk Wawa with the expectation that they would be able to know. I mean it had a wide area of usage, I mean people call it Chinook Jargon right. So that language, according to my elders, was here long before the fur trade or anything else. It was just a reduced form of our language. And it was just again to bare bones communicate with somebody that came into your territory or whatever. That language though became the first language of a lot of families. So places like Fort Vancouver, Fort George and Astoria. These reservations. It became a first language because people were falling in love and the only language they had in common was this reduced Chinook or Chinuk Wawa. So it became you know the first language of a lot of kids and it really kind of became something different. They called it Creolization in linguistics. So this language as I learned it as a Native American Creole, I guess. But anyway that’s a language I had the good fortune of learning. Because of that natural way that it changed, it took a lot of the stories, a lot of our teachings and culture just went right with that language. So it’s been a good inheritance”.

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