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New Testament “Walks Out” Into World of James Bay Cree

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Mistissini, Quebec, July 4, 2001 — A version of the New Testament in the Eastern Cree, James Bay dialect, which took a quarter century to complete, was dedicated June 30, in this northern Quebec town.

Leaders of the Cree community, dignitaries, church leaders, and representatives of Bible agencies dedicated the brightly coloured publication before a crowd of several hundred people gathered at a local school for the occasion.

Mistissini Chief, John Longchap, brought greetings from the Cree Nation. The keynote address was made by Lynda Prince, Grand Chief of the Carrier-Sekani Nation of British Columbia.

The day began with a “Walking Out” ceremony – an event where children symbolically venture forth from the safety of their homes into a wider world. Boys and girls, having recently celebrated their first birthdays, emerged from a teepee in traditional dress before assembled relatives and friends. They toddled along on a trail of soft fir boughs holding onto the hands of their proud parents. The children gathered gifts of food and returned to the tent where waiting elders and friends were served tea and sweets.

“We thought it fitting to have a Walking Out for the children today,” said event organizer Kenny Blacksmith. “Our children and the New Testament in the Cree language are both venturing forth into the wider world of the Cree Nation and so the two events naturally complement each other.”

Blacksmith’s wife, Louise, has been part of the Cree translation team from the beginning. “It’s an emotional time for me because after all these years it’s finally in the hands of my people,” said Louise. “Having it in our own language is really going to make a big difference in the lives of everyone here.”

Two people who have brought continuity to the ongoing work for more than two decades are Rod and Liesel Bartlett, a husband and wife team serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators as translation coordinators. For 26 years the Bartletts have lived in or near Cree communities learning the language, raising their children and identifying with the people they love.

 Fact Box
The James Bay Cree of Quebec number about 7,500 and are located along the east coast of James Bay and to the east. Traditionally hunters and gatherers, they still do some hunting, but are now involved in forestry and a few in mines. The majority of these First Nations people work in the clinic, school, band offices, local businesses and government jobs in the communities.
“Many, many people have been involved in, or contributed to, the successful completion of this work,” said Liesel as she showed a multimedia presentation at the New Testament dedication ceremony. “We really want to thank each of you for your contribution to the finished work—and to our personal lives.”

On the video-screen faces of friends from the mid-1970s to the present told the story — people tending trap-lines, having tea beside a beached canoe or sitting around an old table piled high with books and Bibles used as references in the translation process. These were the faces of countless Cree friends who participated directly or indirectly over the years. People in the audience responded enthusiastically.

Rev. Hal Graham, rector of St. John's Anglican Church in Mistissini offered a prayer of dedication as clergy and members of various local churches laid hands on the New Testaments in simulated moose-hide covers.

Cree translators, Louise Blacksmith and Mary Jane Petawabano, both read aloud to the assembly from the translated Scriptures.

Quoting from the Second Book of Timothy, Roger Gilstrap, Executive Director of Wycliffe Canada, encouraged the Cree people saying that God’s Word teaches us what is true and that it prepares us to be fully equipped for what God wants us to do. He presented a certificate to Rod and Liesel Bartlett for their years of faithful work on the translation.

Hart Wiens, Director of Scripture Translation for the Canadian Bible Society, which published the New Testament, brought greetings from the National Director of the Society, Rev. Greg Bailey. He quoted from Colossians about letting God’s Word live within you.

“Strangers don’t live in your home,” said Wiens. “Strangers only come to visit. When the Word of God first came to the Cree people, it came in an unfamiliar language – as a stranger. This was not the language of your heart – Cree is. Today the Word of God comes in the Cree language. May it find a home in your hearts.”

Tables piled high with Cree New Testaments, audio CDs and tapes were inundated with people who were eager to buy their first copy of a New Testament in their own language. Celebrations continued all day and into the night with an evening praise celebration.

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