Navajo translators and experts work to complete standard works

(Derek VanBuskirk)

The complete translation of the Navajo Book of Mormon, Naaltsoos Mormon Wolyéhígíí, will provide opportunities for Navajo members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to connect to their culture and God through the scriptures.

As of 2018, 169,000 people speak Navajo. However, they only have access to a non-Church translation of the Bible completed in 1985 and some translated passages of the Book of Mormon.

Clayton Long and Charlotta Lacy started work on the Navajo translation of the Book of Mormon in 2019 and finished the first draft in 2022.

An ecclesiastical review committee, including Julius Tulley, Shirley Clarke and Jerome Willie, is now working to finalize the translation.

“I went back to the Book of Mormon and I said, ‘This is sealed to my mother and father and grandma. They don’t speak in English and it’s only done in English.’ So I made a decision that someday I want to translate this book for my mother and for my father,” Long said. “The Second Coming is coming. We have only scratched the surface on translation. The Lord wants (the Book of Mormon) in every language.”

The translation process is more than a job for the native Navajo-speaking team though — it is a journey that connects them to their culture, people and religion.

“When we are spoken to in our mother language, we really feel the love, peace, hope and harmony. All those words come to not only our minds but also to our hearts. And I feel that some of the words that we use, it has a different feeling when we say it in English, compared to when we say it in Navajo,” Lacy said.

They are continuing their work on the rest of the standard works, including the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, which they hope to finish in 2024.

Other members of the Navajo tribe who also have membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like BYU student and tribal member Mikayla Filfred, expressed their feelings toward the complete translation of the Book of Mormon.

“It’s hard for natives to find that balance. I think this is a way for native kids that are struggling with questions like, ‘Am I going to be more cultural or am I going to be LDS?’ I think this will help them to realize, ‘Your culture is important to God and your language is important. And this is what the Book of Mormon would sound like among your own people,'” Filfred said.

Kimberlyn Yellowhair is a Navajo student at BYU from Monument Valley, Utah. She grew up speaking Navajo with her family and explained how the translation would impact her personal spirituality.

“(The translated Book of Mormon) is like another way for the spirit to touch my heart and to help me to understand. It also gives me a way to know how to explain this to other family members that know Navajo fluently or just only know Navajo,” Yellowhair said.

This memorial statue is located at the entrance of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The goal of the translation of the Book of Mormon into the Navajo language is to bless the families of the Navajo people. (Derek VanBuskirk)

While on his mission, Long found ways to apply his native language to his work in the mission field.

Long and a companion translated selected hymns from English into Navajo for member families to sing. He also gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon during his time of service.

He made a career in linguistic education for the Navajo people and upon retirement, officials from the Church reached out to him to participate in the team to complete the Book of Mormon translation.

After some time translating by himself, Lacy, then a language instructor for the San Juan School District, became curious about his work and asked to sit in on a meeting.

“(Long) mentioned he was doing scripture translation and of course, I was extremely interested. However, I was a teacher and school was starting in less than three weeks,” Lacy said.

After some consideration, she submitted her resignation as a teacher.

“Everything worked out. And I felt like it was part of the Lord’s plan. And I’m very thankful that it worked out the way it did,” Lacy said.

Long was also happy to have a someone to aid him in his work and cited Joseph Smith, another translator of the Book of Mormon, who also had translation partners.

“And the miracle was that. What I’ve been praying for was evident right then and there. I didn’t have to ask anymore. I knew that my prayers were answered. We can do this with two translators,” Long said.

This is a residency in the Navajo Nation. Clayton Long said many people in the Navajo Nation will receive the fullness of the gospel through the new translation of the Book of Mormon in the Navajo language. (Derek VanBuskirk)

Previous translators worked on portions of the Book of Mormon throughout the 1980s and 1990s but many tracts had yet to be translated.

“And so that became our mission. That became our goal,” Lacy said.

Even though the first drafted translation of the Book of Mormon is finished, there is still a review process to ensure accuracy and “flow,” Long said.

Julius Tulley, a native Navajo originally from St. Michaels, Arizona and a member of the ecclesiastical review team, explained the continued spirituality throughout the review process.

“So I know just by (reviewing the Book of Mormon in Navajo) as a group, that spirit does work through us. This is something that Heavenly Father wants in the future for our people,” Tulley said.

The complete standard works in Navajo will also be a major step in language preservation among the Navajo people as well.

“This translation that we’re involved in, well, people will use it or people will read it. And that’s how it’s going to be preserved,” Tulley said.

Long and Lacy will continue translation on the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price until June, 2024, followed by a months-long, intensive revision process from ecclesiastical reviewers like Tulley.

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