Native Elder Translating the Bible into Cree: Work on New Testament Still Seven Years from Completion

Article excerpt

IN 1929, when Margaret Ducharme was only 11, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and dispatched by train to a sanatorium in Prince Albert, Sask. It was hundreds of miles from her family on Red Pheasant Reserve near North Battleford. She arrived in September but her father was not able to visit her until Christmas. She had never been away from home and was "terribly lonesome."

But on the train she met a 15-year-old Cree boy, Stan Cuthand from neighbouring Little Pine Reserve and they struck up a friendship. Stan, who was attending high school in Prince Albert, visited young Margaret often during her three-year stay at "the san" and brought along several school friends.

Today Rev. Cuthand, 82, and Mrs. Ducharme, 78, are still close friends and work as colleagues on a Western Cree Bible translation project. Mr. Cuthand is the primary translator while Mrs. Ducharme with her younger sister Hazel Wuttunee, 75, and Ethel Ahenakew, 58, review Mr. Cuthand's drafts and make revisions.

Now, however, it is Mr. Cuthand's health that is precarious. He has had a quadruple heart bypass, yet still manages to work at his computer several hours a day. He has translated a condensed version of the Old Testament and 25 per cent of the New Testament. It may take another two years to finish drafting the New Testament and another five years to review it.

Mr. Cuthand's father had worked briefly in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and after visiting New York became convinced that aboriginals would be better served with a formal education. He wanted his people to be more than hunters and trappers. Nor did farming look promising during the Dirty 30s. It was Cuthand senior who persuaded church officials to establish Little Pine Day School on the reserve.

When only a Grade 7 student, young Stan was encouraged by his teacher, Annie Cunningham, to regularly interpret the sermons of a non-native priest. The boy interpreted so well that he eventually went on to preach himself.

He studied at Emmanuel College in Saskatoon, where most of the young men were being prepared to reach urban, middle-class congregations.

Ordained a priest in 1945, Mr. Cuthand was stationed in Lac La Ronge and travelled by dog team in winter and by canoe in summer to reach his remote congregations at Stanley Mission, Pelican Narrows and Deschambault Lake. Occasionally he would fly with bush pilots to minister to fishermen, hunters and trappers. He later served at Hines Lake and Punnichy Missions in Saskatchewan and Blood Mission in Alberta.

In 1979, Mr. Cuthand and his wife, Christina, served for two years as missionaries in Ecuador, where Stall oversaw five schools for the Quechua Indians.

Mr. Cuthand was the first person to teach Cree at the university level with former First Nations Chief Ovide Mercredi as one of his first students. Mr. Cuthand currently teaches Cree culture and history, indigenous systems of religion and international indigenous issues at the University of Regina. …