Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Bible translations into Native languages



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[For further information consult the page at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians]



The Bible has been printed in part or in whole in 32 Indian languages N. of Mexico. In 18, one or more portions have been printed; in 9 others, the New Testament or more has appeared; and in 5 languages, namely, the Massachuset, Cree, Labrador [Inuit], Santee Dakota, and Tukkuthkutchin, the whole Bible is in print.


The Norwegian missionaries, Hans and Paul Egede, were the first to translate any part of the Bible into Greenland Eskimo, their version of the New Testament being printed in part in 1744, and as a whole in 1766. A revision of this translation, by Otto Fabricius, was twice printed before the close of the 18th century; and in 1822 the Moravian Brethren brought out a new translation, which ran through several editions. Nearly three-quarters of the Old Testament was printed in the same language between 1822 and 1836, when the work was discontinued. In Labrador Eskimo the earliest printed Bible text was the Harmony of the Gospels, which appeared in 1800. This was followed by the Gospel of St. John in 1810, the complete New Testament in 1840, and all of the Old Testament between 1834 and 1867. In other Eskimo languages there were printed: In Labrador Eskimo some New Testament extracts in 1878 and the Four Gospels in 1897, translated by E. J. Peck; in the Aleutian Unalaska dialect, with adaptation also to the Atka dialect, John Veniaminoff's translation of St. Matthew's Gospel in 1848; and in Kaniagmiut, Elias Tishnoff's translation of the same Gospel, also in 1848.


Four languages of the Athapascan family have been provided with Bible translations. The Gospels were translated by Robert McDonald and printed in the Tukkuthkutchin language of Mackenzie r. in 1874, and the whole Bible in 1898. In the Chipewyan, Archdeacon Kirkby's translation of the Gospels appeared in 1878 and the whole New Testament in 1881; in the Etchareottine, Kirkby's translation of St. John's Gospel in 1870, and Bishop Bompas' of the New Testament between 1883 and 1891; and in the Tsattine, A. C. Garrioch's version of St. Mark's Gospel in 1886.


Translations have been made into 13 languages of the Algonquian family. In the Cree, William Mason's work comprises several editions of the Gospel of St. John made between 1851 and 1857, the complete New Testament in 1859, and the whole Bible in 1861-62. Archdeacon Hunter's version of three of the Gospels in the same language appeared in 1853-55 (reprinted in 1876-77). Bishop Horden's Four Gospels in Cree was printed in 1859, and his complete New Testament in 1876. In the Abnaki, St. Mark's Gospel, translated by Wzokhilain, was printed in 1844; in the Micmac, beginning with the printing of St. Matthew's Gospel in 1853, Mr. Rand continued at work until the whole New Testament was published in 1871-75, besides the books of Genesis, Exodus, and the Psalms; and in the Malecite, St. John's Gospel, also translated by Rand, came out in 1870. The Massachuset language, which comes next in geographical order, was the first North American Indian language into which any Bible translation was made; John Eliot began his Natick version in 1653 and finished it in 1661-63, with a revised edition in 1680-85. In 1709 Experience Mayhew published his translation, in the Wampanoag dialect of Martha's Vineyard, of the Psalms and St. John's Gospel. In the Delaware , Dencke's translation of the epistles of St. John was printed in 1818, Zeisberger's Harmony of the Gospels in 1821, and Luckenbach's Scripture Narratives in 1838. In Chippewa, the earliest translations were those of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John , by Peter and John Jones, printed in 1829-31. There are three complete translations of the New Testament in this language: One by Edwin James in 1833, another by Henry Blatchford in 1844 (reprinted in 1856 and 1875), and a third by F. A. O'Meara in 1854 (reprinted in 1874). O'Meara also translated the Psalms (1856) and the Pentateuch (1861), and McDonald translated the Twelve Minor Prophets (1874). In the Shawnee language, St. Matthew's Gospel, by Johnston Lykins, was printed in 1836 and a revision in 1842, and St. John's Gospel, by Francis Barker, in 1846. In the Ottawa, Meeker's translation of St. Matthew and St. John appeared in 1841-44; in the Potawatomi, St. Matthew and the Acts, by Lykins, in 1844; in the Siksika, St. Matthew, by Time, in 1890; fn the Arapaho, St. Luke, by Roberta, in 1903; and in the Cheyenne, the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John by Petter, who has published also some other portions of the Bible.


Three languages of the Iroquoian family possess parts of the Bible. In Mohawk, extracts from the Bible were printed as early as 1715; the Gospel of St. Mark, by Brant, in 1787; and St. John , by Norton, in 1805. Between 1827 and 1836 the rest of the New Testament was translated by H. A. Hill, W. Hess, and J. A. Wilkes, and the whole was printed in successive parts. A new version of the Gospels, by Chief Onasakenrat, was printed in 1880. The only part of the Old Testament in Mohawk is Isaiah, printed in 1839. In the Seneca language, St. Luke, by Harris, was printed in 1829, and the Four Gospels, by Asher Wright, in 1874. In the Cherokee language St. Matthew's Gospel was translated by S. A. Worcester and printed in 1829, the other Gospels and the Epistles following, until the complete New Testament was issued in 1860. Genesis and Exodus, also by Worcester , were printed in 1856 and 1853, respectively, besides some portions of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah.


In the Kwakiutl language, of the Wakashan family, A. J. Hall's translation of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John came out in 1882-84 and the Acts in 1897. In the Tsimshian language, of the Chimmesyan family, the Four Gospels, translated by William Duncan, were printed in 1885-89; and in the Niska language J. B. McCullagh began work on the Gospels in 1894. In the Haida language, of the Skittagetan family, translations of three of the Gospels and of the Acts, by Charles Harrison and J. H. Keen, were printed in 1891-97.


Consult the various bibliographies of Indian languages, by J. C. Pilling, published as bulletins by the Bureau of American Ethnology.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., pp. 62-63.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College