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Freda Ahenakew, FSIN Citizen of the Year
Ahenakew, who holds a Master's degree in Cree linguistics, is currently the head of the Native Studies Department at the University of Manitoba. Incidentally, her thesis "Cree Language Structures: A Cree Approach", published in 1987, is used by a number of educational institutions throughout Canada. She has also published several other books, an estimated ten in total.
In the past, Ahenakew has had extensive involvement in the Saskatchewan Indian Women's Association and worked for a number of years with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
Later, she initiated the first Cree Immersion classes within Saskatoon. Regretfully, these classes were discontinued when she left for Manitoba. Further, thirteen years ago, she was named Mother of the Year by the FSIN.
The mother of twelve is strongly dedicated to both the promotion of education and the survival of their culture. She encourages her children and others to go beyond a University degree and pursue their interests to the fullest.
She also believes that keeping one's language is the surest way of ensuring the revival of their culture. Her commitment to the revival of the Cree language is witnessed by the Cree Immersion Camps which she holds for two weeks every summer at Muskeg Lake. Ahenakew's other work involves interviewing Elders and she has hundreds of tapes to transcribe. These interviews are used in the creation and writing of children's stories such as "How the Birch Tree got it's Stripes". Her stories have untold lessons and teachings which in book form can be used in the classroom.
Upon receiving the award Ahenakew is said to have felt both shocked and undeserving. Her daughter, Brenda Gardipee, summed up Freda's reaction by saying "out of all the honors and awards my mother has received, being named Citizen of the Year is the most meaningful to her because it was recognition from her own people."
For the time being, Ahenakew plans to continue writing, interviewing Elders and transcribing stories. She will also remain within Manitoba for at least two more years and although she is miles away, Freda Ahenakew remains a role model and inspiration to all.