Our Dear Partners,
This Northern Translation Brief is a special edition focusing on the Swampy Cree Language Project. It is part of a set of special editions that highlight the “priorities” identified by the First Nations Bible Translation Capacity-Building Initiative, which have been featured in earlier Briefs.
The Swampy Cree language, which is also known as Maskekon or Omushkego is a variety of Cree, and part of Algonquian language family. It is spoken in chain of Cree communities in northern Manitoba, the eastern edge of Saskatchewan along the Saskatchewan River, and along the Hudson Bay coast into Ontario and down along the coast of James Bay. The Ethnologue reports a population of about 2500, and that language use is “vigorous” but also “threatened”, as are nearly all First Nations languages spoken in Canada.
We have been aware for some time, since beginning work with First Nations church leaders in this area, that there was a need and desire among this leadership to help establish a locally-controlled language program including Bible translation with this community. In October 2017, we were invited to accompany Bishop Lydia Mamakwa and Bishop Mark MacDonald to visit communities in the heart of Swampy Cree territory, Split Lake (also called “Tataskweyak” in Cree) and York Landing.
Our host for this visit was Rev. Larry Beardy, a Cree speaker, an Anglican clergyman, and the Cree language teacher at the school in Split Lake. He grew up speaking the Cree language, but as a Residential School survivor can testify of nearly losing his mother tongue during those years of his childhood, separated from his family and community. After returning home from Residential School Larry started to attend church where Cree was spoken using the prayer book and Bible and sang Cree songs using the Cree hymnals, determined to regain what was lost. Forty-three years later, he is proud to be fluent in his mother tongue and can read and write his language, Cree.
The event that brought the clergy (and me, Bill) together in this community was the consecration of a newly-built church building in the York Landing community, across the lake from Tataskweyak. The beautiful new Anglican church building at York Landing was consecrated during services conducted by Bishop Lydia Mamakwa (the bishop of the first entirely indigenous diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada) and Bishop Mark MacDonald (the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada). Here are a few pictures of the beautiful service:
While it was indeed a great privilege and honour to be invited to this event, the main reason that I went to visit these communities was to share with them how other First Nations communities have established Bible Translation programs of their own, such as Naskapi and Oji-Cree, and how we might help the Swampy Cree communities to do the same. In particular, to tell them about how God is preparing the Next Generation of language program facilitators, like Alice & Martin Reed.
To this end, Larry generously arranged for me to meet with several groups of Cree people to listen to them and answer their questions. We met with local church leaders and lay-readers one evening over dinner, and they learned about the kinds of things that a team trained in linguistics and education can do for a locally-managed language project.
We mentioned earlier in this brief that Larry is also the Cree language teacher at Chief Sam Cook School, the school in the Split Lake community (nursery through grade 12). He invited me to visit the school and the “Land-Based Education Program” that was being held out away from the community “on the land” and share with the staff and student participants about how a translation and language program benefits the whole community.
The school staff and student participants at the Land-Based Education Program made us feel welcome and appreciated, and they indicated to us how much they wanted to include Cree language as part of their curriculum to reinforce Cree culture.
Just before we had to leave to go to the airport in Thompson, Larry also arranged for us to meet with the Education Director for the Tataskweyak Education Authority, Alfred Beardy. He shared his own vision to incorporate the Cree language as a central part of the curriculum in all levels, and expressed his desire for help with the development and production of educational materials. This kind of capacity-building is exactly what our Next Generation Wycliffe teams, like Alice & Martin Reed, have been prepared for.
When we left the Tataskweyak community at the end of our brief visit, we thanked God for their welcome and for showing us the many opportunities for service to them in language development and Bible translation. The following morning, in my hotel room I received an email from Larry on behalf of the church, school and community of Tataskweyak:
“…I know the translation work you do works, and it is a process for language use and survival. I believe my God is loving and gave my people a language. It is a gift and in the heart of my people.
May I recommend, we begin the process to introduce Martin and Alice Reed to the Mistah Wasaha Cree of Tataskweyak? I believe that we must accept what God is offering.
Tataskweyak will welcome the Reed’s expertise.”
Dear readers, you have no idea what a joy and blessing it was to read those words from Larry Beardy in his email to me. It confirmed the hope and desire that we have had for the Swampy Cree language community that God has laid upon our hearts and the prayers on your lips for many years. Rejoice with us for this wonderful answer to your prayers!
Alice & Martin Reed are eagerly responding to the invitation from Larry on behalf of his church and community. They will be finishing their internship with the Naskapi community in Kawawachikamach at the end of October, and then make their first exploratory visit to the Tataskweyak community the second week of November.
Would you pray with us for them as God shows them the next steps of their journey and the good things that He has for the Mistah Wasaha Cree of Tataskweyak and the Swampy Cree language group?
Serving with you,
Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz
… are you still reading? Thank you for your interest and your encouragement!
Click here for a link to Alice & Martin’s newsletter <link>
Scroll down here for a few more pictures of the community of Tataskweyak.
Thank you! and good night!