In what is being hailed as a break from patterns of the past, the Bible is being translated into a Canadian Indigenous language entirely on the initiative of Indigenous people.
Since mid-2015, a team of five translators has been working on rendering the Bible into Oji-Cree, a language spoken by Aboriginal people across northwestern Ontario. A range of organizations have helped with funding, but most of the translation team is Aboriginal and the project is ultimately owned by the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh.
"I'm glad that were doing this project on our own, using our own mother tongue translators, whereas before it was the missionaries from the outside who did the translations for us," says Mishamikoweesh Bishop Lydia Mamakwa. "We're happy that we have the ownership of this project."
In 2007, after 25 years of work, Bill Jancewicz, of Wycliffe Bible Translators and its Canadian affiliate, Wycliffe Bible Translators Canada, and the Rev. Silas Nabinicaboo, a Naskapi deacon, completed a translation of the New Testament into Naskapi, a language spoken by Aboriginal people in eastern Quebec and Labrador. That Bible translation project, which is still ongoing, is owned by the Naskapi Nation Development Corporation, but was begun by the corporation in conjunction with St. John's Anglican Church, Kawawachikamach, Que. It also received considerable support from outside sources such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, Jancewicz says.
The Oji-Cree project was one of the first priorities of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. It had been talked about for some time, but did not begin to take concrete form until a meeting in early June, 2014, only days after the establishment of the spiritual ministry, Mamakwa says.
Until now, Oji-Cree-speaking people have had to use hymnals and prayer books in Cree, Mamakwa says. That means they're hard to understand for Oji-Cree speakers, especially younger people.
"We want something in our own language... It's our God-given language, and we use it every day... We'd like to use it in our worship services, too," says Mamakwa.
These texts are also often sorely out of date, because they haven't been revised to keep up with changes made to the English versions over the past few hundred years. For example, she says, the version of the Book of Common Prayer used in Mishamikoweesh is a Cree translation, made in the 1800s, of the 1662 edition.
"We're stuck with a 1662 prayer book," she says.
In fall 2014, Mamakwa...