New Cree Translation Launched In Saskatoon
Saskatoon, SK – May 19th — Representatives from several First Nations and the Canadian Bible Society joined with the public and officials at the Queen’s House Retreat Centre to celebrate the launch of the new Gospel of Mark in Plains Cree. The milestone was an encouraging point of progress in a work that has been several decades in the making and that reflects the Bible Society’s commitment to making Scriptures accessible to everyone in their heart language.
Because of the profound link between a people’s culture and identity and their language, the Bible Society’s efforts often have an impact much broader than the availability of Scriptures. The work done by Bible translators and linguists inevitably also helps to build literacy and contributes to preserving important cultural elements.
In his address to the gathering, Hart Wiens, the director of translation for the Canadian Bible Society quoted Adrian Jacobs, a Cayuga, and a member of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy from the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario. “The church took away our language and is responsible to help us get it back.” Wiens said that Bible translations help facilitate that.
The original 1862 Western Cree translation by William Mason, sponsored by the British and Foreign Bible Society, is believed to have been the earliest complete Bible published for a First Nation in Canada. It had a profound spiritual impact among the Cree themselves, as well as among the neighbouring OjiCree and Ojibwe. It has been said that in those times the Cree were more literate than the European settlers around them and this first Bible was instrumental in building literacy in their own language.
As members of the First Nations were increasingly educated in English, the use of the original Cree syllabic script diminished and the language itself began to change so that eventually that first Bible Mason had translated using the Cree syllabic script developed by James Evans was no longer as easily accessible. In the final decades of the 20th century the Canadian Bible Society, working in partnership with the Cree Nation, the Church and other partners — including the Summer Institute of Linguistics — began working on a new Cree Bible that would make the Word of God available to a little over 30,000 native speakers of the dialect, largely concentrated in Saskatchewan.
Reverend Stan Cuthand, a Cree elder, Anglican priest and a recognized expert in his language has been the lead translator on the project, working closely with several Cree people and with the support of CBS consultant Ruth Heeg. Progress on this new translation has been slow due in part to the lack of adequate resources to complete the quality assurance process. Individual portions are published as they are ready to introduce the new translation to the community and to build awareness of the work that is being done. The Easter story from the Gospel of Luke was published with the Roman orthography (letters similar to those used in English) coupled with a CD. The Old Testament story of Ruth was published in a di-script format that included both the Cree Syllabic script and the Roman orthography on facing pages. The inclusion of the CD makes the edition a helpful literacy tool.
The new Gospel of Mark is also in a di-script format with a CD. Diane Boyko, chair of the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Board, welcomed this new translation, noting that it would be a valuable asset for teachers in the board’s fully bilingual school where students from kindergarten to grade 3 are taught Cree as well as English.
Dolores Sand, a councilor with the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, who lent her voice to the accompanying CD, also emceed the celebration. An accomplished singer and song writer, Sand joined Wycliffe Translator’s staffer Meg Billingsley in an interestingly harmonized bilingual rendition of Amazing Grace that many felt was an appropriate metaphor for the project.
Father Ron Beechinor, Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon said “The opening words in the Gospel of Mark are ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ son of God…’ The last words in the Gospel are a commission of Jesus to all of his disciples to now take that good news and proclaim it to the nations. If that good news is to be proclaimed, and be proclaimed well, to the nations, then it has to be done in the language of the people. Not just the language people understand, but the language that the people own. And I think that is the wonderful gift that the Canadian Bible Society and the people of the Plains Cree offer to the Church of the World; to offer a Gospel that very clearly speaks to the heart of the people of the Plains Cree. Thank you, very, very much.”
Rev. Dr. Stan Cuthand, a member of the Little Pine Reserve in the Battleford District, was the recipient of the 2009 National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award and the keynote speaker at the event. His first draft of the new translation has been completed, but the community review of each book is a careful and ongoing process expected to take several more years.
About the Canadian Bible Society:
The Canadian Bible Society (CBS) has been in existence for more that 100 years, to promote and encourage – without doctrinal note or comment – translation, publication, distribution, and engagement with the Scriptures throughout Canada and the world. Because the Bible’s life giving message of forgiveness, justice, and hope is needed to transform the lives of people everywhere, CBS distributes Scripture resources in English, French, and 100 other languages. Together, with 145 national Bible Societies worldwide, 300 million Scriptures were distributed last year.
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