Missionaries from a variety of Christian denominations saw translating Christian hymns into indigenous languages as a fundamental part of their work. These translated hymns became especially popular among the Ojibwe. Hymns were first translated in the Ojibwe language in the late 1820s and have since been put to a diversity of uses, including becoming part of Ojibwe cultural self-determination.
Du Vernet mentions hymn singing on many occasions, both in church services and when walking on the land. On July 19th, Du Vernet recounted a story told to him by Mary Johnston from Mary’s time as a missionary in Jack Head, Manitoba. Mary was worried about a young Christian convert named Kitty, who was very ill and had decided to go “through the medicine tent.” In an attempt to bring her back to Christianity, Mary sat with Kitty and “sang in Ojibwa several hymns” to her in her final hours.
This moment points to how Ojibwe hymns were used in what Du Vernet understood as critical moments of conversion, but also the degree to which they were infused in the everyday practice and emotional lives of the people he encountered.
McNally, Michael. Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native Culture in Motions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.