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Native community in the Far North receives first bound books in own language

Dutch couple spearheaded Bible translation in Dogrib

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

RAE-EDZO, North West Territories - A Dutch immigrant Whycliffe Bible translator recently brought a project to fruition that already had been started over a century ago by Roman Catholic missionaries. The Whycliffe translation project has been ongoing since the 1950s. Jaap Feenstra and his Malaysian-born wife Morine began to work on the Dogrib project in 1985. The publication of the Dogrib New Testament this past summer is the second 2003 milestone for the community. The Dogrib recently were granted self-rule by the federal government.

Centred around the Great Slave Lake with a jurisdiction of 39,000 square kilometres, the 3,100 Dogrib tribe has their own distinct language. A key spin-off benefit of the Bible translation is the compilation of a English-Dogrib dictionary, a basic requirement for such an undertaking. In 1992 the first version of the dictionary appeared, four years later it was updated while in 2000 an addendum was made. So far, the dictionary and the New Testament are the only bound books in the Dogrib language. In recent years, local schools have started to use Dogrib in education as well. For the Dogrib community, the development is as defining as was the Statenvertaling for the Dutch and King James Version for the English.

Community takes ownership

The Feenstras had sensed that the Dogrib community needed to get involved with their work. The translation project received a major boost in 1995 after the Feenstra’s told community elders, that after ten years on the job, they still were like a “child in understanding their culture.” The largely Roman Catholic Dogribs then formed a committee to help with the translation, appointing their chief land claim negotiator John B. Zoe as chair.

The entire New Testament was drafted, community checked and rechecked by a consultant between 1995 and 2000. Local involvement made all the difference, says Feenstra. He basically worked from the English language but kept a close eye on the original Greek version. The Dogrib New Testament (the Bible’s first book Genesis also has been translated) was presented during the community’s Annual Assembly, with many people in attendance some from far away, who had supported the project. A few days later, Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited the Assembly to sign a land claims agreement, as well as the right to self-government.


Many onlookers had travelled great distances to be present at the ceremonies. Dogrib translation committee member Mary Siemens exclaimed: “It’s God’s timing (for us) to receive the Bible. Other nations received their Bible. Now it’s our turn.” The Dogrib chiefs ordered a copy for every celebrant. The Canadian Bible Society, the publisher which also subsidizes the printing, already has a reprint underway. The first run of 650 copies will be supplemented by a second run of 200.

The Feenstras who now live in Yellowknife, plan to finish their work on the Dogrib project by 2005. They and other Whycliffe Bible translators must arrange for their own financial support. The Feenstras hope to spend some time in Asia before returning to Canada. Jaap Feenstra hails from Witmarsum. Two of the five Feenstra children were born in Canada.