Your Chinook Wawa Word of the Day: Tyee


[ty-EE’ ] or [tahy-EE]  — Noun, Adjective.

Origin: From Nootka Jargon tayi(s) < Nuu-chah-nulth  tayi  “elder”, “oldest son”, “older brother”, “senior”; allegedly resembles Inuktitut toyom “chief”

Meaning: boss; chief; foreman; gentleman; governor; an important person; landlord; leader; magistrate; manager; master; officer; a superior; any thing of superior order

Occasionally spelled ‘tyhee’ in some place names, and as ‘tayi’ in older publications, ‘tyee’ is one of the most commonly used and wide-spread words in Chinook Wawa. Originally used to only describe a chief or to differentiate nobility from the common people (tillikum), it would later be applied to any anyone or anything in a leadership position or other wise acts “kahkwa tyee” (kingly, like a king), as seen in “tyee lamel” (boss mule), “tyee kopa town” (mayor), “Tyee kopa Washington” (President of the United States), or “tyee klootchman” (matron; queen). The title of  “Sagalie Tyee” is usually translated as “Great Spirit” or “God” but literally means “chief above”.

The word ‘tyee’ can also extend to places, such as “tyee town” (metropolis), positions like “tyee kopa pepah house” (postmaster) or “tyee kopa court” (judge), institutions like “tyee man klaska mamook law” (legislature), or actions like “mamook tyee” (govern) and “pight kopa tyee” (rebel; rebellion).

The title of “hyas tyee” (Great Chief; King; General) was traditionally used by Maquinna and Wickanninish, the two principal chiefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation at the time explorers Vancouver and Bodega y Quadra made contact. This was also the title of the famous chiefs Khatsahlahno (of the Squamish) and Cumshewa (of the Haida), etc. and also of the British king or local governor. In later years, it could also mean a high company or government official or chief military officer. Today the title of “hyas tyee” could be applied to a senator, a longtime MP or MLA, or a business magnate with a strong local powerbase, long-time connections, and wealth from and because of the area.

The title “Hyas Klootchman Tyee” (Great Woman Ruler) translates roughly to “Her Majesty”, and was  used to refer to Queen Victoria in public proclamations during her reign. In theory, this title also applies to Queen Elizabeth II but it is no longer used by the BC government.


Occasionally it could be used as an adjective, as seen in  “kahkwa tyee” (kingly; like a king), or “tyee salmon” (king salmon), a term still used today in the Campbell River-Johnstone Strait region to refer to a large spring Chinook salmon of extraordinary size, usually anything weighing more than 13.5 kg (29.76 lbs).


Tyee is an extremely common name for places and businesses, with the spelling Tyhee occasionally showing up in Idaho and some parts of British Columbia. Tyee Drive is located on Point Roberts, while there is a Tyee Court in Vancouver, BC and a Tyee Road in Victoria, BC. Tyhee Elementary School is located in Bannock, ID, while Tyee Middle School and Tyee High School are located in Washington. The Tyee Restaurant and Motel, established in 1926, is located in Coupeville, WA, while Oregon has Tyee Camp, along with Tyee Wine Cellars and Tyee Lodge, just to name a few.


There is a popular BC news site named The Tyee, and beginning in 1900, Tyee was also the title of the University of Washington Yearbook.

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