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Revival Begins at Home

Gloria Greyeyes

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 2001      v31 n01 p05  
Freda Ahenakew Left: Freda Ahenakew

Irene Freda Ahenakew was born and raised on the Ahtahkakoop First Nation (Sandy Lake). In 1951 she married into Muskeg Lake and became Freda Greyeyes.

Shortly after getting married Freda's new family moved to British Columbia where the three oldest of her children were born. In the early years of childhood Freda's children spoke cree. When the children became school age, they entered into the public school system.

Being cree speakers, learning in a non-aboriginal school was difficult. The teachers said that her children would do much better if they spoke fluent english.

Freda decided that to help her children, she would teach them to speak better english because at that time - the mid 60's - in their household, cree was their first language.

It wasn't until some time later Freda realized that the tables turned. Now it was her younger children who were speaking only english and didn't understand cree. So it seemed that in her efforts to help her school age children cope, her family was losing their mother tongue.

When Freda and her family moved back home around the late 70's and she saw that not only her own children were losing the cree language, but most of the children on the reserve were speaking only english. The gradual loss of the cree language was happening not only in her home but in homes of others.

Freda resolved that there needed to be a balance of culture for First Nations people. So, she initiated her education and went back to Grade 12. With 10 children in tow and she began her lifelong career to "Teach the Children."

Today, Freda is internationally known as a Cree linguistic. Recently the Saskatoon Tribal Council recognized Freda at the 3rd Annual Aboriginal Women's Opportunities Gathering 2000 with a Community Service Award. On March 16, Freda was recognized at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in Edmonton, Alberta as one of this year's recipients.

Throughout her 21 year career she has been a great support and role model for not only her 12 children and many grandchildren but for numerous friends and colleagues. In 1997 Freda suffered a series of strokes, which affected her communications skills. To date, Freda is about 80% recovered and happily retired in her dream log house.