Special to Mesquite Today
The most translated website in the world—jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses—includes content in more than 1,030 languages, including many Indigenous languages considered at risk of dying out.
Among them are Central Alaskan Yupik, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Choctaw, Hopi and Navajo. Additional localized efforts include reaching the Western Shoshone of Nevada with approximately 1,000 native Shoshone speakers.
Richard Jones, who was raised on the Duck Valley Reservation, says of the Shoshone language today: “The majority use English. There’s a few that still use the Shoshone language … some of the older ones.”
Reflecting on his mother’s experience, Richard explains one possible reason why the language is endangered: “She went to a boarding school, and the boarding school absolutely refused [to allow] the students to speak their Shoshone language, and so they told them you can’t speak Shoshone. In some cases [students] even got beat for speaking that language, their native tongue. And so, a lot of them became afraid, I guess, to speak their own native tongue, and so they quit using it.”
For Richard, who grew up listening to his parents speak Shoshone, the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses in supporting local Shoshone translation and language fluency classes have helped him and his wife, Michelle, to embrace the Shoshone culture while deepening their faith.
Michelle relates one expression of appreciation from an elderly Shoshone speaking woman named Lorraine, who stated: “I get so tired of always hearing English, English. … Thank you so much for bringing the Word of God to me in my own language!” Michelle continues: “And so that’s what’s exciting—to be able to bring that hope to them, a sure hope. … In their own language it comes to life. It really does.”
“Translating Indigenous languages is a labor of love for all those involved and for our organization,” said Robert Hendriks, the U.S. spokesman of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The work is challenging and time- consuming. But our goal isn’t to make a profit, it’s to provide the Bible’s comforting message clearly and accurately to as many people as possible.”
Sharing the Bible’s message of hope and comfort in the local Shoshone community has been a powerful experience for Richard and Michelle. Michelle states, “It’s been the best part of anything that I’ve been associated with my whole life.”
“I believe it’s important to focus in on those Indigenous languages because it is the language of their heart, and if they hear it in their own language then it would motivate them to want to learn more about the Bible’s message,” stated Richard. He concludes, “I think it was an awesome expression of Jehovah’s deep love for people by helping us to have that [Shoshone] group and to be able to learn the language and focus on helping the Shoshone people to learn about Bible truths.”