Fr. Joseph Griva
Edward Griva was born near Turin, Italy on September
20, 1864. Following a formal education in his native country, Griva
completed his schooling in the Society of Jesus at DeSmet, Idaho.
Griva's initial Missionary experience was among
the Assiniboine Indians (1894-1895) at St. Paul's Mission. Here he
began the study of his first Native American Language, a learning process
that progressed through twelve Indian tongues during his following half
century in the mission field. Later stations were at St. Charles
Mission, Pryor Creek, Montana among the Crow Indians (1895-1898), the Yakima
Reservation (1898-1902), St. Francis Regis Mission on the Colville Reservation
(1902-1903), back again to the Assiniboine (1904-1907) and St. Ignatius
Mission among the Kalispel and Kootenai (1907-1912).
Deteriorating Health caused Griva to be transferred
to an Italian parish in San Jose, California in 1912 but a year later he
returned to the Colville Reservation. Here he remained at Nespelem
and Omak from 1913 until his death in 1948.
Griva's facility in learning Indian languages
was amazing. At one point he was thought to be the only white man
able to speak and write the Yakima language, and only one of two in the
the first half of the twentieth century to speak Assiniboine. He
also wrote dictionaries in Columbia, Colville, Crow and Kalispel languages
plus various other grammars and texts.
His autobiography states:
"No one can expect to learn these languages by himself but
he must listen to the way that the Indians speak both with regard to pronunciation
(and) as to the way of making a sentence. Hence I tried to pay close
attention to the way of talking of the Indians whenever I had a chance,
and write down in a small memorandum all the words that I could catch,
and then ask the meaning of every word and write it. It is a study
that requires lots of time and still more patience."
In leaning an Indian language Griva also relied heavily
on previously published material, even some from other tribes. He
successfully used Sioux tribal materials developed in South Dakota in his
work with the Assiniboine since both tribes belonged to the same language
group. Yet, in the end, he concluded that "many people have the
idea that one Indian language helps to learn another. It is not so
by any means."
An incredibly diligent worker, Father Griva
helped to construct sixteen churches around the Pacific Northwest.
Yet, it was his Indian language work that was the source of this greatest
pride. He feared for the safety of his manuscripts to the point where,
in 1946, he solicited, through a newspaper article, a vault in which to
place his holdings. Upon his death two years later on October 21,
1948 his linguistic materials came to the Oregon Province Archives where
they testify to his position as premier Jesuit linguist among the Salsas
|Excerpt from the "Guide to the Microfilm Edition of
the Oregon Province Archives of the Society of Jesus Indian Language Collection:
The Pacific Northwest Tribes". Copy write, Gonzaga University, Spokane,