Article Note: Marcus Tomalin, “Exploring Nineteenth-Century Haida Translations of the New Testament”
ACCH Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 3, September 2011
Article Note: Marcus Tomalin, “Exploring Nineteenth-Century Haida Translations of the New Testament,” Journal of Religious History 35 no. 1 (March 2011): 43-71.
By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia
It is interesting to find an article about a Canadian missionary experience, written by an English scholar, and appearing in an Australian journal. Dr. Tomalin, a Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, gives us a detailed account of the translations by Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries sent out in the nineteenth century to the Haida Gwai, (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), a collection of islands off the coast of north-western British Columbia. Early contacts with white traders and settlers had brought diseases which rapidly reduced the Haida population. But the missionaries believed the language was still vibrant enough and that the New Testament and various Offices of the Book of Common Prayer should be translated for daily use. By the end of the century however, the Haida communities themselves wanted to learn English, so these translations have largely been forgotten. Study of the Haida language was largely left up to secular ethno-linguists. Tomalin’s detailed examination of these texts explores the difficulties and complexities involved in such trans-cultural transfers. Their authors’ efforts were clearly prodigious and thus form an integral part of the story of the Anglican Church’s establishment in western Canada.