Indigenous languages a sacred gift

A table with items used in Indigenous ceremony.
Items for an Indigenous ceremony at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square. National Indigenous Day of Prayer will be celebrated in churches across Canada on June 21.
 on May 30, 2023
Michael Hudson

Materials for June 21 translated into many languages

The Right Relations Collaborative, the newest bishop’s committee, was birthed in 2022 when the Rev. Maria Ling began to wonder about the possibility of translating the materials for National Indigenous Day of Prayer into vernacular languages for church use. Serving as the assistant curate at St. Elizabeth Church, Mississauga at the time, she worked with Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking congregations. She reached out to the Rev. Gerlyn Henry, a fellow assistant curate at St. Timothy, North Toronto, to begin a conversation about translating the resources into Tamil as well. The purpose was to provide immigrant and vernacular speakers the incredible resources available to the Church through native language and imagery.

The Rev. Leigh Kern, the diocese’s Right Relations Coordinator, quickly mobilized to respond to the need for such a project. It was called “Translation for Decolonization.” The materials for National Indigenous Day of Prayer are now available in English, French, Inuktitut, Western Cree, Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin and Tamil. In time, we hope to translate them into Malayalam, Filipino, Arabic, Mongolian and Punjabi – the other prominent diaspora worshipping communities within the diocese.

Indigenous languages are a sacred gift from the Creator. Colonization and the Indian Residential Schools system sought to eliminate the diversity of tongues spoken on Turtle Island. Different languages illuminate different worldviews, perspectives and relationships between speakers and the world they inhabit. It is through that very illumination that advocacy and allyship is born.

For example, the “Prayer for those Who Did not Return Home from Residential School and for all Missing and Murdered Indigenous People” is one of the resources that have been widely translated. It begins like this:

“Let us pray, we hold close to our hearts today those whose absence leaves a gap too great for words. We hold to our hearts and grieve those beautiful lives cut short by colonial violence. For the thousands of children who did not return home from Residential School, for the many Indigenous people who are missing, or taken from us, may love surround them.”

While Anglicans of the diaspora may not immediately see pictures of Residential Schools or long braided hair or the baby moccasin, they often know lives cut short by colonial violence. Anglicans of the diaspora understand children not returning home, or family members going missing. It is that visceral, empathetic knowledge and love that empower and encourage us to act with compassion, understanding and justice.

The very system that sought to eliminate the diversity of tongues is the one being brought to repentance through the diversity of tongues. By translating the resources of prayer and worship into imagery and language that are tangible to several native language speakers, the anti-colonial, anti-racist collaborative effort swells from the ground and informs its congregation.

We soon realized that the work of translation is but a small part of the work towards Right Relations and formed what is now known as the Bishop’s Collaborative for Right Relations. This group provides prophetic responsibility and develops reflective resources for the diocese related to the legacy of Anglicans on Indigenous lands and colonization. The collaborative coordinates opportunities to advance the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, address power imbalances and advance equity and justice. The leadership team consists of the Rev. Leigh Kern Right and two co-chairs, the Rev. Maria Ling and the Rev. Gerlyn Henry. They work closely with the Rev. Simon Li, the Rev. Samantha Caravan and the Rev. Claudette Taylor, who serve as core members of the collaborative.

On June 21, we observe the National Indigenous Day of Prayer. General Synod established this day as a major feast that takes precedence on a Sunday (Book of Alternative Services p.15). This means that alongside the long-celebrated Baptism of our Lord and the Transfiguration of the Lord stands this day of prayer. In worship, we hear from God and God’s people, repent of our sins and participate in the great act of reconciliation. On June 21, we are called to worship and prayer, as the whole people of God, to reflect on our painful history, repent of our participation in its sin and carry forth God’s reconciliation of all people through solidarity, advocacy and action. That is worship. That is prayer.


This article was written by the Rev. Gerlyn Henry and the Rev. Maria Ling. The Rev. Gerlyn Henry is the priest-in-charge of Church of the Holy Wisdom. The Rev. Maria Ling is the interim priest-in-charge of Grace Church on-the-Hill.


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