David Ahenakew

FSIN: A Look at Leaders

By Christa Nicholat

Reprinted with permission from
Eagle Feather News - December 1998-January 1999 - pg. 18

David Ahenakew

David Ahenakew shown in headdress presenting Myles Venne with pipe

The election of David Ahenakew to the position of president in 1968 signalled a marked change in the style of leadership up to this point. Ahenakew was born on July 28, 1933, at Sandy Lake Indian Reserve. In 1951 he married Grace Ahenakew and together they had three sons and two daughters. He also joined the army in 1951 where he would serve sixteen years. He achieved the rank of sergeant while serving in Germany, Egypt and the Korean Conflict. He was awarded " The Canadian Decoration" for distinguished service and good conduct in 1964. Also during this time he completed his education, which would help him later in his battles on behalf of the Indians of Saskatchewan. In 1967 Ahenakew accepted a position with the Saskatchewan government as a placement and training officer, which gave him the opportunity to work closely with band councils. A year later in 1968, he became employed with the FSI as a communications worker and he was then elected president later in the year.

David AhenakewAhenakew, like Knight and Bellegarde, was also a veteran. His long period of service in the army very much influenced his decision to enter into politics: "I could see that what was happening to our people was the same kind of exploitation and degradation I had seen in Korea and Egypt."

Ahenakew's veteran background was perhaps the only thing he really had in common with the three previous presidents. Ahenakew was a transitional leader. His election as president really marked a generational change within the leadership of the organization. Ahenakew was well educated, energetic, ambitious and in relation to past leaders, he was quite young. Elected when he was 35, Ahenakew was the youngest person to hold the position of president up to that point. Ahenakew was certainly the new, young vibrant leader that the Indian electorate seemed to be looking for at this time. Ahenakew built upon the foundation laid by Tootoosis, Knight, Bellegarde and Deiter. He set the FSI on the course of building and organizing the programs and institutions of today.

David AhenakewAhenakew accomplished many tasks during his term in office, such as successfully negotiating federal/provincial Indian government relations in Saskatchewan and releasing a report entitled "Indian Education in Saskatchewan," which outlined the unsatisfactory situation affecting the education of Indians in the province. Ahenakew was also instrumental in the establishment of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College and the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in 1972, serving as an original board member of both institutions. It was also during this time that he helped organize a radio and communications network for Saskatchewan Indians. In 1976 David Ahenakew was presented with an honourary LL.D. by the University of Regina and he received the Order of Canada in 1978 for his dedication and commitment to the advancement of Indian rights. David Ahenakew was a founding member of the National Indian Brotherhood and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. He was also elected Chief of the Assembly of First Nations(AFN) in 1982.

David AhenakewAhenakew was an outspoken leader and often emphasized that Indian people should not wait around for the government to do things for them, but that they should take responsibility for their rights: "We will never secure our rights and have our authority recognized by sitting around asking somebody to recognize them[for us]." This sentiment was most likely a result of his many years of training in the army, where recruits were taught independence and self-sufficiency, but it also reflects the confidence he had in the abilities of Indian people to secure their own rights.

If success is measured by longevity, then David Ahenakew was quite successful. He remained president of the FSI for ten years, the longest term ever held by a president or Chief in the organizations history.

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