On behalf of the Senate of the University of Manitoba it is my honour to present to you, Freda Ahenakew - linguist, author, language teacher, story-teller and grandmother. Freda Ahenakew is a native speaker of Plains Cree, and is a member of Atahkakohp First Nation. She was already the mother of 12 children when she decided to finish her high school education, and then went on to earn her Bachelor's degree from the University of Saskatchewan. Her interest in language and literacy, however, brought her to the University of Manitoba, where she earned a Master of Arts in Cree linguistics. Her Master's thesis was subsequently published as a book called, Cree Language Structures, and it has been printed not just once, but 17 times.
Freda Ahenakew's graduate work launched a career that has been stellar regarding her advancement of linguistic knowledge and Cree literacy and culture. She believes that literary texts can be used to teach indigenous languages hence she set about with her co-workers, to produce the needed books in the Cree language that reflect the experiences and stories of her people. Her scholarly contributions have included recording of oral histories in Cree and English, myths and stories for children, and vocabularies for physicians. Works such as Kohkominawak otâcimowinawâwa (=Our Grandmothers' Lives as Told in Their Own Words), and Kwayask ê-ki-pê-kiskinowâpahtihicik (=Their Example Showed Me the Way: A Cree Woman's Life Shaped by Two Cultures) rank high on a long list of books that document how Cree women's life experiences have molded their characters. Children also need to read their stories, and become aware and comfortable with their written form, hence she wrote books like Wisahkecahk Flies to the Moon that is used in the primary grades. Physicians need to know Cree terminology so that they can deliver more effective health care, so she edited a collection of Cree medical terms for their use.
In addition to her scholarly, literary and pedagogical contributions at the primary and secondary levels, Freda Ahenakew has taught and developed native literacy curricula at several institutions in Saskatchewan, as well as at the University of Manitoba. Our university was particularly fortunate to have her work as a professor between 1989-1995 in the Department of Native Studies, where she also served as departmental Head over a five year period that culminated in her retirement.
Freda Ahenakew's achievements have brought her many honours, which include recognition by her own people, an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and her appointment to the Order of Canada. She is an inspiring Elder and an internationally respected scholar. Thanks to her transcription, translation and analysis of stories and oral histories, she has ensured that Cree culture and language will be transmitted in written form to the next generation, and the literature of the Cree people has become available to the world. For these contributions, we thank her and honour her.
Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for me to ask on behalf of the Senate of the University of Manitoba, that you confer upon Freda Ahenakew, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
-citation delivered by mentor, Emőke Szathmáry, President Emeritus, University of Manitoba