March 14, 2022 -


The Gift of the Native Perspective and How The First Nations Version Can Refresh Your Spiritual Life with Terry Wildman

Terry Wildman

In this episode, Terry Wildman invites you on a journey to rediscover the Scriptures through the Native lens. Terry Wildman’s ancestry is Ojibwe and Yaqui. He is the lead translator and project manager for the First Nations Version, an Indigenous translation of the New Testament. Storytelling, the cultural practice of naming, and embracing the Great Mystery all play a role in this faithful and refreshing translation. Listen as Terry paints a picture of the church as a sacred family in which the gifts of all ethnicities are valued and have a seat at the table.

Episode Reflection

Invitation to Explore

Terry Wildman skillfully relates some of the uniqueness a Native perspective brings to the community of God despite the ways the Native community has been unvalued by the broader culture. In what new ways are you invited to see Creator’s story? In what ways is your understanding enhanced by the language of the First Nations Version? What might it look like to continue learning from and honoring Native communities in your own life?

Scripture to Study

“From Small Man (Paul), a sacred servant of the Great Spirit and a message bearer for Creator Sets Free (Jesus) the Chosen One. I have been sent to strengthen the spiritual ways of Creator’s chosen ones and their understanding of the truth that guides them on this sacred path. This way of trusting and understanding rests on the hope of the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony. It was long ago, before the beginning of time, that the Great Spirit, who always speaks the trust, promised this life to us. So when the time was right, the Great Spirit, who is our Sacred Deliverer, trusted me with this message and told me to make it known to all who will hear.

(Hebrews 1:1-3, First Nations Version)

Wise Words to Consider

“Once I had a picture in my mind, this was years ago, of several pottery jugs. Some had First Nations designs on these pots, some were Celtic; some were African, Asian and other designs. Then I saw a hand pouring water into each pottery jar. It was like Creator was saying to me that he has poured some of the portions of the gifts of his grace into each ethnic group — gifts of grace that can only come to others through each ethnicity and in relationship with those ethnicities. … There are gifts that Creator has put there for the whole body of Christ, and we won’t be whole or complete or mature until all those different gifts are being appreciated and brought into place;  to the conversations, into the tables, into the theological circles and so on.”

A Prayer to Lead You

Creator, we are reminded by our Native brothers and sisters that faith includes mystery and that You are bigger than all of created life and everything in the world. We frequently make You small by our refusal to honor the sacredness of Your creation and our unwillingness to learn from those who are different from us. Change our bad hearts and broken ways that we may come into a flourishing community with all You have created. Amen. 

A Practice to Begin

Many of us live disconnected from our own ethnic and cultural identities. Some of us have lost those ties due to pressures to assimilate, some of us have few ancestors to tell us these stories, and many of us have previously lacked curiosity about this area of our lives. Whatever situation you’re in, what is a way that you can honor how God created you? What is the story of your family, and how does that impact who you are today? If you never have, consider making a visual representation of your family or some other aspect that represents your identity.

Questions to Answer

Terry talks about the tragedy of colonialism and the impacts of it, including the erasure of Native languages and customs and the ways that the reputation of Jesus was given a “black eye” when Christianity was forced on Indigenous communities. The First Nations Version uses storytelling language that connects to the heart without relying on words that may be associated with this history. While culture is a beautiful expression of God’s diversity, it is dangerous when cultural paradigms are passed off as the only truly biblical ones. Have you ever been on the receiving end of this conflation? How did that impact you? Have you ever insisted on culturally specific ways of religious expression, even unintentionally? What changes have you made to avoid doing that?

Resources to Help 

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

Videos by Terry Wildman and Jesus Film Project, Retelling the Good Story: A Collection of Short Films for North American Native People.A Book by Randy Woodley, Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth


Michele Davis  00:03

You are listening to the Created For podcast.

We believe that everyone was created to make a unique impact in the world. Created For is a podcast to explore ideas around purpose, calling and discovering how God is inviting you to influence the world in your own way right now.

I’m your host, Michele Davis. Today, our friend and co-host Julie Chang interviews Terry Wildman. Terry is the lead translator and project manager of the First Nations Version, which is an Indigenous translation of the New Testament.

You guys, I downloaded this to my Kindle, and it is a refreshing retelling of Scripture that will encourage you and open up your eyes to see Scripture from a new point of view. Terry and Julie discuss this in this beautiful picture of the church as a sacred family where the guests of all ethnicities are celebrated and present at the table together.

Julie Chang  01:07

Terry, welcome. We’re so glad that you’re here.

Terry Wildman  01:10

Hello. It’s good to be here with you guys today.

Julie Chang  01:12

Would you be willing to share a little bit about yourself?

Terry Wildman  01:15

Absolutely. Well, my wife and I live in Maricopa, Arizona. We live on the traditional lands of the Pima in the Tohono O’odham. So my native ancestry is from the Great Lakes region. It includes both Ojibwe and Yaqui. But the Yaqui part of my ancestry is out here, where I live in the Arizona, Mexico area. And so yeah, I grew up in Michigan, and I’ve been involved in lots of ministry over 25, 30 years of ministry. I’ve been a pastor; I’ve been a worship leader. And now I do some work with Native InterVarsity, the director of spiritual growth, leadership development for Native InterVarsity, and my wife and I still travel as Rain Song occasionally doing music and storytelling. And so we have a number of CDs. So we’re also recording artists and musicians.

So we have an eclectic story behind us and, and now with the First Nations Version, I’m getting a chance to tell that story even more. I do have a greeting I say: Boozhoo niijii, bimaadizig. So that’s “Hello, my friends who share this life together with me.” That’s Ojibwe. And I’ve been reconnecting to my Native heritage over the years, I’ve been mentored by a couple of my Anishinaabe elders, and have reconnected somewhat to my culture. Of course, all of our Native people have had separation from our cultures, and many of us, most of us have lost our languages. So that has been one challenge for us. And one reason why we did the First Nation Version.

It’s estimated that over 90% of our Native people do not speak or read our languages. And so that is because of government assimilation policies that were participated in by church organizations, mission organizations, church organizations, help the government kind of keep us from speaking our language and keep us from holding on to our culture, and trying to assimilate us into the dominant culture, the majority culture. And that has been the process for a couple hundred years, maybe even longer if you go back to the original settlers who came here 400 years ago, 500 years ago.

So there’s a lot of history behind this. There’s a lot of things a lot of Christian people in America don’t understand and don’t realize, and we’re trying to help break down some of those barriers to bring understanding, to bring conversation, once again, between our peoples so that we can respect each other and love each other and understand each other.

Julie Chang  04:13

I love that. I love that you’re building bridges in that way to connect all the ways to new ways and bridged and understanding, and I just think about the kingdom of God and how colonial way is not the ideal way, and how you’re trying to redeem and build back what has been lost, basically, is what I’m hearing from you.

Terry Wildman  04:36

Yeah, the First Nation Version is not intended to ever replace our languages. It’s really what it is. It’s an effort to take the colonial language that was forced on us and let it now serve us in English because we made an English translation by Native … all Native people were involved, First Nations believers from all over North America, Turtle Island, as we call it, and so we see it as an in-between gap, something that can be used aside other language translations to help our Native people reconnect culturally because language is embedded in culture; when you lose culture and language, it’s pretty devastating to understand who you are as a person and where you belong, you know, in a society. And so that’s been a struggle, but the translation is hopefully something. It’s a step, we hope in the right direction, to help break down the barriers, and help our native people. Listen to the Scriptures, hear the Scriptures, read the Scriptures, in a Native friendly English that’s intended to touch upon the cultural ways of speaking, traditionally, like the elders would have spoken to us. So that’s kind of the idea behind it, as if a storyteller is telling the story of Creator Sets Free. That’s what we call Jesus in our translation. 

Julie Chang  06:12

Yeah, I love that. I was looking through and I noticed that you use Creator as a reference to God and also Creator Sets Free as a reference to Jesus. Would you be willing to tell me more about that, and why you use that? Tell me? Share more.

Terry Wildman  06:32

Yeah, that’s a very important part of the translation. You know, the word “God” in the Greek language that’s translated into English as God is … that translation itself is not an inspired translation. Theos (Θεός) is the Greek word, and it simply means “the divine one” or “the most powerful one.” And it comes out into English, probably out of a German root, of a German deity in some way to speak of deity. And so, we wanted to find words, some general words, not tribally specific, but general words that all Native American people, First Nations people, how they address the Creator, how they address God, is the maker of all things. And so we use Creator, which is also a biblical term for God. And we use Great Spirit primarily, those two that we use a few other things like the One Above Us All, for the most high, we use other names, like sometimes it’s the Knower of Hearts, the One who Loves Us, depending on the context, but primarily, Great Spirit and Creator, that way Native people resonate more with that way of speaking of the Supreme Being.

With most of our cultures that I know of, every culture I’ve ever been involved in, hundreds of Native cultures, believe in a Supreme Being. They also know that under the Supreme Being, there are other powerful spirits and other powerful spirit beings and things like that, but they know there’s one Creator, and so we wanted to connect to the proper way that Native people would express who the Creator is now when it comes to Jesus.

Okay, what we did was, we looked at the Native tradition of how all of our names traditionally had meaning. Okay? Every name has a meaning in our languages in the Hebrew/Jewish culture, names all have meaning, and the one that’s most commonly understood is Father of Many Nations. Who am I talking about there? Abraham. Abraham’s name means Father of Many Nations. And in Romans, Paul actually explicitly says that’s the meaning of his name. Now when we come to the meaning of the name, so we chose that every name in the New Testament, or almost 500 names of places and people, we translated into the meaning of the name.

So Jesus becomes Creator Sets Free. And the reason is because he has come to set his people free from their bad hearts and their broken ways, which is another way we translate “sin,” bad hearts and broken ways.

And so, Creator Sets Free is the meaning of Yeshua. The Hebrew name of Jesus means to “Set Free or Deliver” or “To Save”, you know, so Creator Sets Free is the meaning of Jesus name. It’s one of the possible ways to translate that meaning. And it fits the story of Jesus, it fits who He is, He came to set us free.

And so the other thing is, in the prophecy when Jesus has given his name by the angel to Mary, right? He says his name will be called Jesus, Yeshua in the Hebrew. But then it says, “This was to fulfill the prophecy, that his name will be called ‘Immanuel,’ which means; ‘God is with us, our Creator is with us.’”

So, Jesus is the fulfillment of the meaning of the name Immanuel. So Jesus was given more than one name, just like many of our Native people have more than one name, Paul had more than one name. He was originally Saul, and then his name changed to Paul. And so we did that in the First Nations Version. And a lot of people don’t understand that the name Jesus is simply a translation into English, bringing his name over from Latin, or from Greek, into the English.

The first English Bible, the Geneva Bible, was the first one to use the name Jesus. The original King James Bible, from 1611, didn’t even use Jesus, it used “Yeezus” for his name, which is closer to the Greek pronunciation of his name. So a lot of people don’t understand … if you dig in and look this up, you’ll find out that all these meanings of these names sometimes fit into the stories in the Bible, the name actually means something to the story. And so, in this translation that’s brought out more, and people are noticing that. Our Native people have said that this one thing that we did, by translating the meaning of the names, has been the most important part of the translation. So that’s a short version of why we use names and how we use them.

Julie Chang  12:14

I love that. Tell me more about that. Why did they say that the meanings of the names was the most important to them?

Terry Wildman  12:23

Because it connects culturally to who we are as Native people. All right. And culture is such an important connection to who we are, to how we understand the world, how we understand ourselves, how we hear words, how we view the world around us, our culture influences us tremendously in those areas, and by connecting to a cultural practice, which is true both in our Native American way and in the Hebrews, the Jewish way, Hebrew Bible, connecting those two things, becomes an important connection to who we are as Native people, and it helps us read the Scriptures and hear the Scriptures better, I think, and I say that, because that’s what the feedback we’ve been getting is it has done that. But not only Native people, but even non-Native people are getting so much out of the names.

Every time I have an interview, we talked mostly about this part of the translation. And that’s okay. Because, as far as we know, this is the first translation that ever brought out the meaning of all the names. And so that it gives a little more depth to the reading of Scripture.

Julie Chang  13:55

I love that. Just the concept of the power of our name and the power of our identity and how that ties in and how that changes perspectives. That moves into another question, actually, that I was about to ask, which is, what are some ways that a non-Indigenous person’s perspective might be changed or enriched by reading the First Nations Version of the New Testament?

Terry Wildman  14:19

Well, one of the things is, we presented the Scriptures, we try to word things in the way a storyteller might word a story. And honestly, the gospel is a story being told. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all storytellers, telling the story of the gospel. So non-Native people, culturally haven’t connected as much although everybody connects to stories. That’s why we love movies. That’s why we like to read books. Everybody connects to stories.

So I think for people who aren’t native to hear it more in a storytelling way and to use new fresh words that aren’t normally used in a translation to translate, say, “the kingdom” or “sin” or other things in a different way with new wording, that it brings a freshness out of the Scripture. At least that’s what we’ve been told by non-Native readers.

They love the perspective and the freshness, but also what we like about it, and what we hear about it is it’s helping non-Native people understand Native people better. And to see the value.

See, in North American Christianity, Natives have been undervalued. And culturally, we’ve been undervalued.

And so in the body of Christ in America, in the Christian world of America, you won’t see many Native people being invited to the table, being invited into a podcast, being invited into theological circles. And so I think that needs to change. And I think this translation at least, is kind of helping people say, “Oh, wow, look at Native people who have brought something that’s really touching me. And that opens up an idea, let’s have more of a conversation.”

Let’s see what Native people have, you know, I’d like to share something along those lines. Once I had a picture in my mind, this was years ago, of several pottery jars. Some had First Nations designs on these pots, some were Celtic, some were African, Asian, and other designs. Then I saw a hand pouring water into each pottery jar. It was like Creator was saying to me that He has poured some of the portions of the gifts of His grace into each ethnic group. Gifts of grace that can only come to others, through each ethnicity and in relationship with those ethnicities, just like Creator has made us individually unique. And every one of us has a unique perspective that we can share with others. It’s also true, I believe, of ethnicities, of people groups, and there are gifts that Creator has put there for the whole body of Christ. And we won’t be whole or complete, or mature until all those different gifts are being appreciated and brought into place to the conversations and into the tables, into the theological circles, and so on.

Julie Chang  17:46

Amen. Amen. I love that. And that is so true. I was just talking to a friend of mine the other day about how ethnicity will be eternal, all ethnic groups will continue to worship Creator in eternity and why it’s important that each nation can do so in their own cultural way to bring greater glory to Creator.

Terry Wildman  18:16

Absolutely. And you know, when we speak of non-Native people, we’ve had a lot of people from other ethnicities, Asian and African ethnicities, liking this translation and connecting to it even more than they have other translations. There’s something … you know, I think there’s a gift that Native people have a gift of expression, a gift of simplicity, but it’s not just simpleness, it’s profound simplicity, an easy way of speaking and hearing and conveying things with a humility and yet with a power in that humility. So I think that’s one of the gifts we have and can bring to the table.

Julie Chang  19:04

I love that. Terry, do you have a favorite verse that you’ve translated? I would love to hear one. And I would love to hear why that one.

Terry Wildman  19:15

Okay. Well, an interesting one is Hebrews chapter 1, verses 1 through 3. Now one of the things that makes it interesting is the Book of Hebrews is written culturally to Jewish people. It’s to culturally touch them, and bring the message of Jesus in a way for Jewish people to hear it. But it translates really nicely to Native people because Native people, like Jewish people, are tribal. And we have ceremonies, and we have similarities with the Jewish culture.

So in Hebrews 1, 1 through 3, here’s how we translated that;

“Long ago, in many ways and at many times, the Great Spirit spoke to our tribal ancestors through the prophets. But now, in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son—the one he has chosen to give all things to. It is through his Son that the Great Spirit made the world that is, the world that was, and the one that is coming. This Son is the light coming from the face of the Great Spirit in all its bright-shining beauty. What is true about the Great Spirit is true about the Son, for he represents Creator in every way. It is his powerful word that holds the stars above, the earth below, and all things seen and unseen in their place. He came into this world to purify the bad hearts and broken ways of all people. When he was finished, he returned to the One Above Us All to sit in the place of greatest honor at the right hand of the Great Mystery.”

[First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament  (Heb 1:1–3). (2021). IVP: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.]

So that’s Hebrews chapter 1, verses 1 through 3.

Julie Chang  21:05

I love that.

Terry Wildman  21:06

So there’s a lot in there that you can unpack connecting with the Jewish people, the fathers are the tribal ancestors. And for us, we have great respect in our Native cultures for our tribal ancestors.

Julie Chang  21:23


Terry Wildman  21:23

And so we honor our ancestors. So there’s a connection there. We also believe in prophecy, that Native medicine people and spiritual leaders could prophesy and speak from Creator. And so that connects to that with also. And then this passage introduces a new concept for our Native people, that Creator, the Great Spirit, has a son, as a son, who is every bit like Him in every way, and one with the Creator. And everything that’s true about Creator is true about His son, and that he represents Him.

And so this begins to introduce, it starts with the Creator, it starts with the Great Spirit, then it introduces Jesus His Son, here, it doesn’t even in the Scripture, it doesn’t call him by his name Jesus yet. And I like that, for this reason, that many of our Native people the name Jesus is associated with colonialism. It’s associated with the way the gospel came to us. And it came to us as a forced thing. It was forced upon our people. And so in some sense, Jesus got a black eye, through colonialism, a bad reputation.

So the more we can begin to connect the Scriptures, and the son of Creator to our Native understanding of who the creator is, then it makes sense when we bring the name Jesus and when we actually use Creator Sets Free as the meaning of Jesus’ name and that gives Native people, “Oh, his name has a meaning.” And so what we’re hoping that verses like this will do is it begins to introduce Jesus in a fresh way that doesn’t put up the walls and the trigger or the defense mechanisms that have always been there that have the way it was brought in a wrong way. Because we want our native people to hear the gospel in its purity. And not confused with colonialism.

Julie Chang  23:39

Yes. Wow, I’m so glad that this is published and this is out. I’m curious about why you use the name “Great Mystery.” I love that. It’s so beautiful.

Terry Wildman  23:56

Yes. And let me explain that. In the language of my Anishinaabeg ancestry, Anishinaabeg people today, they call the Creator Gichi-manidoo. Gichi means “Great or Huge” and Manidoo is “Spirit”, but also the word Manidoo can be translated “Mystery, or Mysterious”. Because Spirit is a mystery.

Julie Chang  24:31


Terry Wildman  24:32

Spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a mystery how the spiritual world affects the natural world, and the natural world affects the spiritual world. And so Great Mystery is just one of the ways that we express the idea of Great Spirit. It might be a more mystical way of thinking of it, of His name and there is a mystery that surrounds our Creator. Even the Jewish people, you know, His name was so mysterious, they wouldn’t say it. And they would just say, “Hashem,” the name, and things like that.

Julie Chang  25:14

Yes, I love that. I just think so often that we want to have answers about God and want to be feel like, “Oh, this is the secure answer. This is how God is, this who God is, this is how or Creator is.” But when we move to Creator, then we move to a great mystery. Expanse enables us to expand and be okay with not all of our questions can be answered. And that’s okay. 

Terry Wildman  25:43

It’s a mystery how the son of Creator is the same as Creator … is one with Creator, it’s a mystery, we don’t understand exactly how it works. We’ve had theologians for hundreds of years trying to explain it, we’re still trying to explain it. And it’s okay. And that’s what we love about Native, our culture, we learned how to live with mystery and be okay with it. 

Mystery is a part of our spiritual life. And we can accept that there’s mystery out there, Creator is much more than we can possibly imagine. Who Creator is, He’s bigger than our imaginations. He’s bigger than anything. Oh, He’s bigger than the mountain. He’s brighter than the sun. He’s all these things can give us ideas of what He might be like. But He’s more than all these things. You know?

Julie Chang  26:40

I know that often in Western majority culture and mindset, we think of calling as an individual thing. How does something like seeing the Creator’s calling us something being more of a communal rather than individual? How does the Indigenous perspective influence calling in that way? 

Terry Wildman  27:00

Well, I’ll give you maybe an example. When Jesus talks about, he says, You are the light of the world, right? Well, He’s using a plural term. He’s not saying you as an individual are the light of the world. And then Jesus says, a village set up on a hill cannot be hidden. So he uses the term, “village” or “city,” their village, which is a communal word. It takes a village to represent the Creator, to represent his good ways. It takes people who are living together under the teachings of a spiritual leader, like, of course, here, it’s Jesus. He’s the most spiritual man that has ever existed. He’s perfect, human, perfect spirit. Perfect the way Creator would want us all to be. And so he uses those words, and our Native people have understood this concept of communal living. 

You know, in reading the Scriptures, the Scriptures were never written specifically for individuals, it was always written to a group of people, the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Galatians, that they were, it was a sacred family. That’s what we call the church. That’s another way we brought out the communal idea when you say the word “church,” people have all kinds of different ideas in their mind, of what a church is. But when you say Sacred Family, now we’re into a more communal idea, that we are living together as a family, this church, these called out ones, are called out together into a family to live together, to represent Creator to this dark and dying ways of this world.

Julie Chang  29:09

Yes. I love that. It reminds me of the verse in the book of Acts about how they had everything in common and they share everything with one another.

Well, I have one final question for you, Terry, before we wrap up, so it is Created For, we want to help people find their place and God’s story and understanding their calling and their purpose. So for our listeners, if you had one invitation for someone who wants to grow in their calling and purpose, and find their place in God’s story, what is one thing that you would like to say to them, about one step that they could take or one piece of advice, what would you say?

Terry Wildman  29:48

I know there’s an interesting verse in Hebrews that says;

“Those who come to the Creator must believe that He exists. He is and He’s a rewarder of those who work hard at seeking Him.”

So, I guess, for me, the best step is to have an honest and open heart toward the idea that Creator exists, that there is a Creator, there is one who made everything. And if you take the idea of a creator away, what are you left with? How did this all happen? How did I happen? And it kind of leaves me a little empty, but when I can think, “Oh, there’s a creator who made me for a purpose. And he created me to be like him,” and again, I’m using gender language, which I don’t know, the Creator is, he’s neither male nor female at all, because both male and female are in His image and likeness, you know, but the New Testament does use “He” for Creator and Father, so I have no problem with that. But just understanding that He is a rewarder, He wants us to ask the questions, there’s no wrong questions. He wants us to bring our doubts, our concerns, our worries, our wondering to him, we can get bold with him like Abraham, Abraham said, “Will not the creator of the world do what’s right?” And you know what, He didn’t fall off His throne because Abraham asked Him a hard question. You know, He can take our hard questions, and He wants our hard questions. Because He will then begin to interact with us, it doesn’t happen immediately. You know, for our Native people, spirituality has been, is an important part of our life. And so we have always been traditionally interested in other people’s spiritual ways and understanding spiritual people.

So Jesus would be in the beginning, before colonialism took over. Jesus was presented to some of our Native people in a way that they just said, “Yes, that makes total sense. He’s a spiritual man, I want to learn more about who this spiritual man is.” And so just be open to asking, and being willing to say, “Hey, I don’t understand everything. And I don’t even understand this Old Testament. I don’t understand why Jesus had to die on the cross. But that’s okay, that we don’t understand it. Because he just wants us to come to him, just the way we are. With all of our warts, all of our worries, all of our questions. And then he starts work working with us spiritually.” And I believe that when a person does that, honestly, from an honest heart, man, get ready. The Creator is going to … He’s going to respond to you. And He’s going to open some doors, and you’re going to learn some new things, and things will open up that that you didn’t… Relationships will open up, suddenly, your attention might be drawn to a book, or something to read, that will be just what you needed to hear. That’s been my experience, and the experience of many others who I know, have, you know, wondered and called out if there is a God, if there is a Creator, reveal yourself to me.

Michele Davis  33:43

Like Terry just shared with us, Creator has made us individually unique, and has given gifts of His grace to each ethnicity, which makes me think, what are the gifts of His grace that He’s given me? And what are the gifts of His grace that He’s given to the people around me? And what can I do to help everyone feel like they have a seat at the table? What can we do to invite everyone around us to be who God has created them to be?

 While you’re pondering all of that, don’t forget to also run to your nearest bookstore and get your copy of the First Nation Version, New Testament. You guys, it’s already sold out once and has been restocked. So don’t wait. Get yours today.

Created For is hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate or review it wherever you listen. For more resources to continue your journey to living out your impact. Check out the show notes on our website and follow us on Instagram @_createdfor.

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