Freda Ahenakew

“Teach the children.” These three words sum up the message that Freda Ahenakew has been carrying by word and deed throughout her adult life. This retired professor of Native Studies is recognized as one of the country’s leaders in the recognition and revitalization of Aboriginal languages in Canada. Dr. Ahenakew learned Cree as a little girl during a childhood spent on the land in Saskatchewan. She was taught by her grandfather in the very shadow of residential schools. Dr. Ahenakew went on to become a pioneer in Native language curriculum development and a much sought-after professor and lecturer at universities across Western Canada. Her university thesis, ‘Cree Language Structures,’ has been reprinted 17 times. Dr. Ahenakew helped design Cree language courses that feature authentic indigenous texts; documented and analyzed Cree medical terminology; and recorded and documented the life experiences of elderly Cree women.  Now retired, she has received the Order of Canada and other national, provincial and local honours. The impact of her life’s work is destined to be felt for decades. “Perhaps Dr. Ahenakew’s most important contribution, which will outlast all others in the long term, is that she has, nearly single handedly created a written literature for a language which is increasingly under threat of extinction,” Chief Joe Quewezance of the Saskatoon Tribal Council says. “By recording, transcribing and translating the stories of the Elders, Freda has laid the foundation for generations of readers to come.”