Has this racist insult disappeared then from Canadian speech and place names? No. It is still proudly displayed in Vancouver's Stanley Park.
Siwash Rock , an offshore monolith near Prospect Point in Vancouver's Stanley Park. The Squamish people who once lived in Stanley Park believed the rock to be a symbol of ‘clean fatherhood.’ They may well believe that but the word siwash is a Chinook Jargon insulting put-down of aboriginal people. It was a synonym for ‘wild Indian.’
It is NOT an intrinsic word in the language spoken by the Squamish people. Vancouverites, at last report, have not the slightest intention of changing the name of the rock. So, when you are visiting the friendly shores of Lotusland North, you can point this ugly little meaning out to them. There are other fanciful meanings attributed to the rock's name. Check out this one:
Note that the word siwash appears nowhere in this wee mythlet. Some reward, eh? Being petrified for being unselfish!
Historical Revenge in a Flip-Flop Change of Meaning
Alaskan pilot Alex Clark sends me a neat update:
“The word "Siwash" is still very much alive in certain Alaskan villages. It is still used by almost the entire population of Fort Yukon, Alaska and by much of the population of Eagle, Tanana and Galena.
While it may have originally been a derogatory term used by the trappers who inhabited the area back in the 1800s, it is now used by the indigenous villagers to describe a no-good white man.
Although one must keep in mind that in villages like Fort Yukon almost nobody is a full-blooded Indian. Most of the residents have Scottish-Irish or English last names and the mix of green and blue eyes, along with the occasional red-head, indicate that the old Hudson Bay Trading Company left more than a little language behind them.
I worked in public safety for a few years before moving to other parts of the State. Witness statements would often start like this:
“That guy is a real one!”
My retort would then be, “A real what?”
Answer: “A real siwash”
Alex Clark, Dragonfly Aero
Floatplane and Tailwheel Instruction
Homer, Alaska, USA
And here's an email note received in the summer of 2009:
I'm not sure if "siwash"was used in Canada the way it was used ubiquitously in Oregon from way back up to at least the 1970's and probably later, but around here it was possible to be "siwashed" at the local bar. That simply meant you misbehaved and were summarily kicked out and barred from buying liquor at that establishment until if and when the ban was lifted.
I'm sure that if you asked people who frequented taverns and night clubs in the 1950's & 1960's, especially the more rowdy establishments, you could verify if the term was used in this manner in Canada.
[ Casselman footnote: In Ontario, when I was a very small boy in the late 1940s, drunks to be barred from taverns and beverage rooms were "put on the Indian List" and could not be served any alcohol. ]
Interesting web site.
Any comments, additional word lore or book orders?
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© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman