Ahenakew was born on the Ahtahkakoop First Nation in 1932.
She received her early education at the Sandy Lake Day
School and the Prince Albert Collegiate Institute in
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Freda has twelve children.
When her children were dropping out of high school, Freda
decided to be a role model and headed back to school with
her children and finished high school with them. She
later went on to the University of Saskatchewan and
graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1979 and the
University of Manitoba with a Master of Arts in Cree
Linguistics in 1984.
Freda has taught at the SICC, Lac La Ronge First Nation and the Saskatoon Survival School. From 1983-1985, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and then became the Director of the Saskatchewan Indian Languages Institute from 1985-89. From 1989 to 1996, she was an Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba and was Head of the Department of Native Studies from 1990-95. Freda then moved back to Saskatchewan to work as a First Nations Language Consultant to the Prince Albert Grand Council until her retirement in 1997.
Plains Cree is Freda's first language and she has subsequently studied English and French. She is recognized as one of the most distinguished Aboriginal scholars in Canada. Freda's work on the language, culture and history of the Crees range from two classroom readers and workbooks used in schools across the country to popular lectures, children's books and technical and scholarly research papers on language and linguistics. Her published thesis, Cree Language Structures, has been reprinted seventeen times and is a unique guide to the teaching of an Aboriginal language through the use of literary texts.
Almost single-handedly, Freda has begun to create a written form for the traditional literature of the Crees. By focusing on transcription, analysis and translation of traditional stories and autobiographical accounts- especially women's life experiances- she has prepared them for publication in Cree with an English translation. All collected stories are published as told to Freda, in the Elders own words.
Dr. Ahenakew has clearly led the way for our people in numerous ways, most importantly, she has united the values and lifework if the Cree Elders with the scholarly community by devoting herself in an exemplary manner to building intellectual and moral life through her publications.
In 1997, the University of Saskatchewan awarded Freda an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree to recognize the work that Freda has done to preserve and protect the Cree language. Most recently, the Governor General of Canada named Dr. Ahenakew to the Order of Canada, for her work in preserving the survival of the Cree language and culture, the highest honor bestowed on a citizen in this country. "Your language gives you an inner strength, a pride in your heritage, when able to speak it, even a little bit".
Links: (click on X in top right corner of outside link to return to photo gallery)
CM Archive Book Review: TWO LITTLE GIRLS LOST IN THE BUSH: A CREE STORY FOR CHILDREN/WANISINWAK ISKWESISAK: AWASISASINAHIKANIS. Glecia Bear/Nêhiyaw. Illustrated by Jerry Whitehead; Edited and Translated by Freda Ahenakew and H.C. Wolfart. Saskatoon, SK: Fifth House Publishers, 1992.