First Nations Mark Translation Milestones

More than 30 years ago, the Naskapi people of Eastern Quebec welcomed a Wycliffe couple, Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz, to live among them. Working closely with local leaders and community members, Bill helped the Naskapi to standardize their syllabic writing system, develop the first practical way to use their writing system on computers, and build a team to translate the New Testament.

Naskapi translators dedicated their New Testament translation in 2007.

Since then, the Naskapi translation team based in Kawawachikamach, 15 km east of Schefferville, Que., has pressed on to translate and publish a variety of materials to bolster their knowledge of the Scriptures and help preserve their language and culture.

“We’ve been pleased to see steady progress toward their goal of translating through the Old Testament,” Bill wrote in a recent blog post.

The book of Genesis was published in early 2013. Earlier this year, the Naskapi dedicated the Book of Psalms in their language, and team members are now translating Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, Job and the Song of Solomon.

Their translation of Exodus, completed in 2018, is now in composition and layout stage. The Naskapi team hopes to soon have a preliminary printing available so they can review it before Christmas, along with a fully revised edition of the Anglican Church’s Sunday Lectionary Readings in Naskapi. The lectionary provides scheduled Scripture readings for use in Naskapi church services. Copies of the Sunday Lectionary are now being printed, and community members hope to have it in hand by Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent


Matt Windsor with Oji-Cree translators

Even as they press ahead with Old Testament translation, Naskapi translators are sharing their skills and experience at capacity-building workshops attended by other First Nations translators. They’re all part of the Cree Initiative, an ambitious project funded in part by Wycliffe Canada. The initiative helps facilitate Bible translation for more than 100,000 people living in five related Cree language communities from Alberta to Ontario.

In Kingfisher Lake, Ont., Wycliffe Canada staff members Matthew and Caitlin Windsor are assisting local translators working on Mark’s Gospel. It’s hoped the Oji-Cree translation will be completed by the end of the year. Another Wycliffe Canada member, Meg Billingsley, is currently in Kingfisher Lake with the Oji-Cree team, checking their translation of the Gospel of Mark.

Checking Mark’s Gospel in Oji-Cree

In Northern Manitoba, Wycliffe Canada staff members Alice and Martin Reed are working with the Northern Manitoba Anglican Mission to prepare the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt (from Genesis) in three First Nations languages there: Swampy Cree, Ojibwe, and Dene. These books will be told in traditional indigenous storytelling style and illustrated by indigenous artists.

Other communities that speak closely related languages–Innu in Labrador, Plains Cree in Saskatchewan, and Swampy Cree in Manitoba–are just beginning to explore the possibilities for Bible translation and language development.


Also in 2019, Bill Jancewicz assisted in the completion of a project to create audio files of the entire Cree New Testament. They are part of The CreeTalker Western Cree Bible App, now available for Western Cree speakers across the Prairies and in Ontario.

“There are many Cree speakers and semi-speakers (listeners) who do not read in Cree,” says Bill, “but they can understand the Scriptures well when someone reads to them.”

Besides the smartphone app, the Canadian Bible Society is working to complete typesetting and layout of the old Western Cree full Bible (having been out of print for several years) which will also be available as an electronic publication, or ePUB. The ePUB can be viewed on smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Related content:

Cree Initiative project
A Cree Initiative (Word Alive story, Jan. 2017)
Nomads No Longer (Word Alive story, Jan. 2013)


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