About Us

ɬaxayam, Eric Michael Bernando nayka nim! Hello my name is Eric Michael Bernando and I am a member of the Watlala band of the Chinuk indians of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde as well as Croatian, Italian, Irish, English, and German. I began studying what remains of our tribal languages in the early part of the 2000’s, as an attempt to find myself and my native heritage, for which i was at a loss. Although I knew that I was native and was always told to be proud of that ancestry, I still yearned for something, a voice, to tell me and/or show me my path.

When a language class was offered at the Portland Tribal office for the first time, I was hesitant to attend as I knew little about my people and their traditional ways. The class went slow because I did not have the proper mindset to engage in the language and immerse myself in that which was Chinuk Jargon. I am not sure as to what transpired from there? I think it was a conversation with one of the Portland State Chinuk Wawa (those who took that class at PSU when it was offered) speakers that convinced me that there was more to Chinuk Wawa than simply speaking a native language;that Chinuk Wawa could be the voice I was looking for, that ancestral something that made my current situation relevant.

Chinuk Wawa is my voice! I am a member of the Chinuk Wawa Portland Area language circle and the tribes Chinuk Wawa representative for areas outside Polk and Yamhill counties. I am the Grand Ronde ambassador to Fort Vancouver. I have a Masters in Education from the University of Oregon.

The best I can describe my current relationship with the language is one of hope and of despair. I seek to pontificate the language every chance I get; whether at the store, at Wawa classes, Fort Vancouver, Tribal Council meetings, or anywhere where someone will listen. The language will outlive me, if I have to speak it everywhere and all the time. Drop me a line at: chinukwawa (at) gmail (dot) com

About The Language

Chinook Jargon (called Chinuk Wawa in the language) was a trade-pidgin of the Northwest Coast Indians. It was spoken from Alaska all the way to southern Oregon and into California and as far east as Idaho. The exact origin and time line of the language is unknown. The language was heavily influenced by the Chinookan languages of the lower Columbia River. It also had influences from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Salish languages as well as French and English influences during the fur trade and into colonization.

The oral lineage of the language we teach was preserved on the Grand Ronde reservation, where many different tribes came together but spoke different languages. For that reason, they spoke Chinuk Wawa to each other very often and kept it alive as a spoken language up to this very day. There are many sounds in the language that do not exist in the English alphabet. We speak the version of the language that preserved all of the original sounds and grammar of the language that you cannot understand or read by looking through one of the many dictionaries out there on Chinook Jargon.

The Pledge

By coming to any of the classes listed on this website, you must make a pledge to help us revitalize this language. We are not looking for people to come and learn this language and then take it elsewhere. We are building a vibrant language community. When you enroll for these classes, you are making the pledge to become not just a speaker of Chinuk Wawa, but a teacher as well. Welcome to the community and thank you for your support!


We would like to thank our elders for carrying this language forward and keeping it alive. We would like to thank specifically, Henry Zenk and Tony Johnson for reviving and continuing to keep the language alive and for teaching us how to wawa. We would like to thank Evan Gardner for spending so many hours teaching the language and creating fluent speakers and teachers, and for introducing us to the “Where Are Your Keys”™ language learning game. Thank you to all of the members of the language community who continue to share, teach and speak in Chinuk Wawa.