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Trajectory of Hope for First Nations
How did we come to this? I asked myself that question when the Attawapiskat First Nations community in Ontario declared a state of emergency this past April because of youth suicides. Sadly, such tragedies are becoming commonplace across this nation. The good news is that the Canadian Church and our government are awakening to the underlying issues affecting Aboriginal peoples.
After meeting with First Nations leaders this past June, Prime Minister Trudeau concluded that restoring indigenous languages builds pride, identity, belonging and culture. He stressed, “In indigenous communities where there has been the support and an ability to do language and cultural teaching to an extremely high level, suicide rates have plummeted.”
Trudeau’s statements echo the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report about the sad legacy of government-funded, church-run residential schools. By eliminating students’ use of their native languages, these schools encouraged “cultural genocide” that ripped apart the social fabric of many indigenous communities. In its calls to action, five of which were targeted at the faith community, the TRC urged promotion of mother-tongue Aboriginal languages.
This past March, at a meeting in Toronto on First Nations Bible translation needs, I met with mother-tongue translators from several Wycliffe-sponsored Cree translation teams. Their comments about the impact of residential schools broke my heart: “I almost lost my language” and “Our generation is blaming the Church for losing their language and culture.” At that same meeting, Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada, described the work of these Cree translators as essential for the incarnation of the Word of God into Aboriginal communities. “I don’t think that there is anything you can do today that is as critical as the work of Bible translation for the First Nations communities,” he said.
This is why Wycliffe Canada—with our vast, global experience in Bible translation—is so excited to help sponsor the Cree Initiative project, a locally driven effort that could impact 100,000-plus First Nations people from Alberta to Ontario. We ask Canadian congregations and believers to join us to help train and assist First Nations people to revitalize five Cree languages and translate the Scriptures for use in their churches and communities.
These local believers are eager to see God speak His Word into the hearts of their people. They believe Bible translation is relevant to the deep wounds and hopelessness among their people. This work is also relevant to a government struggling to encourage national reconciliation and justice. Moreover, it is relevant to a Canadian Church embarrassed by its role in a cultural genocide that continued into our generation. Bible translation is a way for the Church to mend the lingering damage of residential schools that impairs current relations with our First Nations brothers and sisters, and blocks future healing.
Wycliffe Bible Translators has always stressed the importance of the mother tongue to a people’s identity. Translation of God’s Word is currently advancing in 2,400 languages worldwide as local churches increasingly engage in their own countries. Will churches in Canada rise up to work alongside First Nations in our own backyard?
Bishop MacDonald told me, “We are on a trajectory of hope; we are on a trajectory of justice; we are on a trajectory of salvation.” When is the last time you heard that story line?
Come and be part of this new trajectory of hope among First Nations. To learn how to be involved and donate to the Cree Initiative, visit Cree Initiative.
Above: Bible translation is part of a trajectory of hope for First Nations people, like this Oji-Cree mother and child at St. Matthew’s Church in Kingfisher Lake, Ont.
[Article originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2017, p23]
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