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The First Nations Version of the Bible

This English version of the Bible aims to share scripture in a way that is culturally relevant to First Nations people of Turtle Island.

A new version of the New Testament is underway, written by First Nations people, for First Nations people. Terry Wildman, a pastor at Northport Indian United Methodist Church in Michigan and director of Rain Ministries, initiated and is leading the project. OneBook Canada has partnered with Rain Ministries, and Wycliffe Associates is supporting this project as well. This English version of the Bible aims to share scripture in a way that is culturally relevant to First Nations people of Turtle Island (North America).

The First Nations Version is being written in English, which is spoken by seven million Indigenous people in North America, rather than in a tribal language. One of the effects of residential schools in Canada, like the boarding schools in the United States, was that the majority of First Nations people became disconnected from their tribal languages. Among the 94 Calls to Action in the 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada are four that are addressed specifically to the church: 58-61. In Call to Action 59, the church is called upon to educate congregations “about their church’s role in colonization.”

In 2015, Wayne Johnson of OneBook was considering updating some of the Bible translations that have been published in Native Canadian languages, but he realized that few First Nations people speak – and even fewer read – their tribal language.

Forming a partnership

Wayne searched online and quickly discovered Terry Wildman, who had already completed a picture book Birth of the Chosen One, illustrated by Ramone Romero, and When the Great Spirit Walked Among Us, which tells the stories of the four gospels for First Nations people. Terry began these projects because he noticed a lack of culturally relevant resources to use in his ministry. Of using other Bible translations with First Nations people, Terry said, “It just wasn’t using wording and a form of expression that they could really relate to.” He was already at work translating the New Testament, and Wayne offered OneBook’s support and experience in group translation to assist with this project.

Words for a heart language

The First Nations Version is being completed using a group translation method and the tools available through the translation software called Paratext. On September 13-18, 2015, ten Native Americans from different tribes gathered at Wycliffe Associates office in Orlando, Florida to begin translating key terms. Choosing these terms involves people of many different tribes. Terry Wildman notes that the “powwow culture” has led to some common modes of expression and ways of storytelling. There is also a similar spiritual outlook, such as the medicine wheel, the circle of life, deep respect for creation and a belief in Creator. While the translation effort is not aimed at revitalizing a particular tribal language, it does aim to revitalize the storytelling style of Native elders (see Call to Action 61, point ii in the sidebar) by speaking in ways First Nations People can relate to and reflecting their “heart language.”

The first step was to decide on translations for key Bible terms. The words were chosen carefully, with a keen awareness of how some words have been misapplied in the past. For example, the word “sin” was often used in reference to Native culture in residential schools and boarding schools.

Call to Action 61 of the Final Report of the TRC of Canada

We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:

  1. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
  2. Community-controlled culture- and language-revitalization projects.
  3. Community-controlled education and relationship-building projects.
  4. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination and reconciliation.

Author

  • Judith Farris lives in Sarnia, Ontario with her family.

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