Freda Ahenakew was born on the Ahtahkakoop First Nations Reserve on February 11, 1932; she married and moved to the Muskeg Lake Reserve. As Cree speakers, her eldest children struggled when they entered school; to prevent this occurring with her younger children, only English was spoken at home. This meant, however, that her own children were not grounded in Cree, their mother tongue. Looking for solutions to the critical cultural issue of language retention, Ahenakew completed her grade twelve and began work as the Education Liaison Worker with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. Wishing to further her education, she convocated from the Institute of Teachers’ Education Program (1979), taught in the field, and enrolled at the University of Manitoba. She convocated in 1983 with a Master of Arts Degree majoring in Cree Linguistics. Ahenakew then taught for the University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, the University of Calgary and, until her retirement, at the University of Manitoba. She also served as director of the Saskatchewan Indian Languages Institute (Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre). Ahenakew’s thesis, “Cree Language Structures: A Cree Approach” became her first publication (1987). Others works include kohkominawak otacimowinawawa ( Our Grandmothers’ Lives, as Told in Their Own Words) and Kwayaske e-ki-pe-kiskinowapahtihicik (Their Example Showed Me the Way: A Cree Women’s Life Shaped by Two Cultures), which received an Alberta Award for Scholarly Book of the Year in 1988. Ahenakew received an honorary LLD from the University of Saskatchewan and was named to the World Indigenous Education Task Force; she also received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (1992), as well as the Order of Canada (1998) and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2001. Freda Ahenakew passed away on April 8, 2011.

Christian Thompson

Further Reading

Greyeyes, G. 2001. “Revival begins at Home,” Saskatchewan Indian 31 (1): 5; La Rocque, L.A. 1992. “Citizen of the Year: An Inspiration to All,” Saskatchewan Indian 21 (3): 1.