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The Ten Commandments in Cree

by Rev. W. H. Davis, B.A.

Manitoba Pageant, April 1958, Volume 3, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

A missionary faces great difficulties when he sets out to translate the Bible into another language. How will be express thoughts, or describe things that are strange and unknown to his people? How, too, will he make sufficient copies for everyone?

There is a curious example of the first difficulty to be seen in Christ Church Anglican, The Pas, Manitoba. Here over a hundred years ago, a missionary painted the Ten Commandments in Cree in the window recesses alongside the pulpit. The Venerable R. Horsefield once told me how this early missionary tried to learn the Cree word for "sea" from these inland "plains" Indians who had never seen a "sea". From his description of the "sea", they finally gave him the name "Winnipeg" for the large lake of that name. So today, in Cree, is found painted there, the somewhat surprising information, that in six days God made "heaven and earth, Winnipeg, and all that in them is". (Exodus 20: 11)

Interior of Christ Church, Anglican, The Pas, Manitoba.
Source: Canadian National Railway

These very fine large fleur-de-lis shaped aisle boards were carved by men who tried to rescue Sir John Franklin. Spending a winter here a hundred years ago they spent the time hand-hewing and carving the pews in this church. The Ten Commandments in Cree are in the window recesses alongside the pulpit.

It is also of interest to see how copies of Cree Scriptures were first printed for these people. James Evans, the first missionary to reduce Cree to writing, took sheets of birchbark for paper. He made his type from the lead lining of tea chests. His type moulds were made from mud. His letter forms for the moulds, he carved with a jack-knife out of wood. Ink was made from soot and grease. A fur-baling press was his press with which he made his slow and smudgy pages. The loose pages were sewn together by hand, and soft deer skin made the covers of those first Bibles made in the forest. This was at Rossville, Norway House over 100 years ago.

A Cree Dictionary can be bought for $2.50 from the Anglican Church Missionary Society, 600 Jarvis St., Toronto 5. Bishop Hives' Cree grammar which contains fairly extensive vocabularies is also obtainable from the above address at the same price.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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