Translators participate in the Mother Tongue Translator workshop on April 22 at the Guelph Bible Conference Centre.

Bible translation workshop focuses on First Nations languages

For five days in April, First Nations translators gathered together in Guelph, Ont., for a workshop on developing the knowledge and skills to translate the Bible into their native languages.

Conducted by Wycliffe Bible Translators in partnership with the Canadian Bible Society and the Anglican Church of Canada, the Mother Tongue Translator Workshop brought together residents from First Nations communities engaged in the work of translating the Bible into Naskapi, Oji-Cree, and Plains Cree.

Translation project facilitators Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz helped lead the workshop, which took place from April 20–24 in the Guelph Bible Conference Centre as part of the First Nations Bible Translation Capacity Building Initiative.

“In recent days, there have been more and more First Nations people who, in reclaiming their language, or doing education in their language, or…worship in their church, [are] finding that they need to have the Scriptures in their mother tongue—in their local language,” Bill said.

The workshop made extensive use of the collaborative translation software program ParaTExt, which provided source translation and resource documents to help participants check their work.

Translation project facilitator Bill Jancewicz assists Ruth Kitchekesik, deacon of St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Kingfisher Lake, Ont., as she translates the Bible into Oji-Cree.
Translation project facilitator Bill Jancewicz assists Ruth Kitchekesik, deacon of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Kingfisher Lake, Ont., as she translates the Bible into Oji-Cree.

Among the participants was a five-person Oji-Cree Translation Committee from Kingfisher Lake, Ont., which included Ruth Kitchekesik, deacon at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.

“I think language being a big part of our culture…and God being a central part of our lives, we want God to speak to us so we can understand him better,” Kitchekesik said, adding that it was only natural to want to translate the Bible into one’s own language to experience the word of God more directly.

Underscoring the need for new translations, Indigenous Anglicans in Kingfisher Lake are still currently using a 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer in the Cree language.

The Naskapi contingent at the workshop hailed from the community of Kawawachikamach, Que. and included representatives from the Naskapi Development Corporation (NDC), the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach (NNK), and Jimmy Sandy Memorial School.

Cheyenne Vachon, project co-ordinator for the Status of Women in Canada for NNK and lay reader at St. John’s Anglican Church, noted the difficulty of maintaining a balance between English or French and Naskapi, as projects such as translating the Bible into Naskapi aim to reinforce the native language.

“I don’t favour one or the other; I think both [languages] are very valuable in our lives now,” Vachon said. “But in our community, we should enforce our language first and [help] the kids to have a very good foundation before they move on to English or French.”

Plains Cree speaker Gayle Weenie—who travelled from Saskatoon, Sask., to attend the workshop—was well aware of the need to preserve one’s indigenous tongue.

As a youth, Weenie attended a residential school where she was permitted to speak only English. She recalled her sister picking her up from school, and the two siblings being unable to understand much of what the other was saying. Only later in the year did Weenie begin to pick up her Plains Cree again.

“At one time, I almost lost my language…Now today I’m so happy that I am able to speak it and use it with the elders,” Weenie said.

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh (which encompasses Kingfisher Lake) each visited the workshop during the week.

In the following interview, Bishop Mamakwa offers additional background on the Bible translation initiative.

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