Translators will deliver the pope’s words in languages forbidden in boarding schools
EDMONTON — When Pope Francis arrives in Canada and asks for forgiveness for Catholic residential schools, a team of translators will ensure that not a word is lost for those receiving the apology.
Henry Pitawanakwat, who comes from the Three Fires Confederacy of Manitoulin Island in Ontario, is part of this team and will translate the Pope’s words into the Ojibwa language.
From the late 1800s until 1996, Canada removed Indigenous children from their homes and forcibly placed them in institutions run by church staff where they were forbidden to speak their language.
Pitawanakwat’s mother was a residential school survivor, which he says affected him as well. And he says he suffered abuse and trauma from members of the Jesuits in his youth.
Still, he says it’s important to him not to let his own feelings get in the way as he translates the pope’s words into a language that children were once punished for.
“I have to put those feelings aside because I am a professional translator and I will do my best to do a correct translation whatever the subject is,” Pitawanakwat said in an interview on Saturday, a day before the Pope was due. program. start his Canadian tour in Edmonton.
An archaeologist at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, Pitawanakwat is a member of the Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau and has translated federal election debates in 2019 and 2021 and also recently for an APTN series.
Francis, who is from Argentina, speaks Spanish, so Pitawanakwat says another interpreter will translate what the Pope says into English before he and other interpreters translate those words into a dozen indigenous languages.
Web links for each language will then be available for people to listen to the translations in real time.
“Language has always been my passion. It’s always interested me,” says Pitawanakwat. « As a young student at school, I realized that we had a different concept and a different perspective in the language. »
Translating a religious event will have challenges, he said. Many biblical words do not have corresponding words in Ojibwa. But he says the general context is the same – the prayers in both cultures are for the same reason: forgiveness and letting go.
While Pitawanakwat remains unbiased about the translation process, he hopes to hear more than just an apology from Francis. He wants a commitment to support Indigenous language and culture.
Preserving indigenous languages is important, he said, not just to remember the past, but to save the future. Languages, he said, hold knowledge for solutions to current problems like climate change and pollution.
“I would like to see language funding. Help us create immersion schools where we can bring back our own language,” says Pitawanakwat. “Because it was directly from residential school that we lost our language and our culture.
“Apologies for him, it’s over. For us, the trauma and pain continue for life.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 24, 2022.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press