More than 60 aboriginal (native) languages are spoken in Canada, and some 213,000 Canadians report one of these languages as their mother tongue.
To reach the hearts of aboriginal people, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have learned one of these languages. By the end of 2015, more than 250 individuals had completed an aboriginal-language class organized by the Witnesses.
Additionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses have translated Bible-based publications, including short videos, into eight of Canada’s aboriginal languages: Algonquin, Blackfoot, Plains Cree, West Swampy Cree, Inuktitut, Mohawk, Odawa, and Northern Ojibwa. *
Those who learn an aboriginal language admit that it can be challenging. Carma says: “When I began helping the Blackfoot translation team, I felt as if I were working blindfolded. I did not know the language well. I could neither read Blackfoot nor recognize any of the sounds.”
“Many words are long and difficult to pronounce,” says Terence, who works with the West Swampy Cree translation team. Daniel, a full-time minister on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, says: “Resources are limited. The best way to learn Odawa is to find a grandma or grandpa in the community to teach you.”
Is all that hard work worth it? One Ojibwa woman remarked that the efforts that Jehovah’s Witnesses put forth make them different from other religions. She said that by going to people’s homes and reading the Scriptures in Ojibwa, the Witnesses help people to feel more comfortable discussing the Bible.
Bert, a translator who was raised on the Blood Tribe reserve in Alberta, notes: “I’ve seen a number of Blackfoot people hold a publication to their chest and say, ‘This is my language. This is for me!’ I often see tears well up in their eyes when they watch a video in their language.”
One Cree-speaking woman deeply appreciated the video Why Study the Bible? in her native tongue. She said that she felt as though her mother were speaking to her.
Going the Distance
Many Witnesses have made exceptional efforts to share the Bible’s comforting message with aboriginal communities. Terence and his wife, Orlean, recall one such expedition. They relate: “We were part of a convoy that drove about 12 hours on ice roads to witness on a reserve called Little Grand Rapids. The response was amazing!”
Others have moved from the comfort of their homes to live closer to these communities. After enjoying a three-month preaching campaign on Manitoulin Island, Daniel and his wife, LeeAnn, decided to move there. Daniel explains: “We appreciate having more time to build trust and develop interest.”
“Because I Genuinely Love Them”
Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses making special efforts to reach out to aboriginal people? Bert’s wife, Rose, explains: “Being native myself and having experienced the benefits of applying Bible principles motivates me to help others.”
“I want the Cree people to have the opportunity to be guided by our Creator,” says Orlean. “It’s a real privilege to help them draw close to Jehovah and overcome the challenges they face today.”
Marc works with the Blackfoot translation team. Why does he reach out to aboriginal people in his community? He replies: “Because I genuinely love them.”
^ par. 4 Some of these languages are also spoken by aboriginal peoples of the United States.