The literacies of colonialism and settler colonialism: Emma Battell Lowman, ‘Mamook Kom’tax Chinuk Pipa / Learning to Write Chinook Jargon: Indigenous Peoples and Literacy Strategies in the South Central Interior of British Columbia in the Late 19th Century’, Historical Studies in Education, 2017


Abstract: During the mid-nineteenth century, the advent of multiple gold rushes swept foreign populations into what is now known as the British Columbia Interior, bringing a variety of European languages to the homeland of a multitude of Indigenous languages. In order to bridge communication gaps between these populations, Chinook Jargon, a composite trade pidgin, quickly spread. The Jargon or “Wawa” became so common that, in the last decade of the century, Catholic priest Father J. M. R. Le Jeune developed and standardized a shorthand writing system for the Jargon—Chinuk pipa—and used it to publish a popular local newspaper. At the same time, residential schools began operating in the region, and English was aggressively promoted; however, contrary to expectations at the time and perceptions since, English literacy developed slowly in the British Columbia Interior. By contrast, Chinook pipa spread quickly and literacy in the Chinook Jargon—for a time—outstripped English literacy. Drawing on extensive primary research in the archives of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate missionary order, interviews, and literature in linguistics, missionary history, Indigenous languages, and colonial exchange, this article considers the different learning and teaching strategies that were used to develop English and Chinook literacy, and their subsequent successes or failures. In so doing, it challenges understandings about the role of pidgins and literacy in more global settler colonial contexts and offers an intervention to the wider theme of the role of literacy in the missionary project.

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