David Ahenakew “A Man of His Words”

Perhaps even more important than the whole papal visit to Canada was that moment when Pope Francis – already on his way home – acknowledged the word “genocide” as an accurate description of the criminal effects of the residential school system on Canadian Indigenous children. For me, it brought to mind the arguments of late AFN chief David Ahenakew of Ahtahkakoop First Nation, that Indigenous People here in Canada had suffered a holocaust of their own. Perhaps he might have appreciated a moment of vindication.

Nelson Bird of CTV Regina was kind enough to provide us a copy of his 2009 video about David Ahenakew to share here. Nelson created it as an episode of his “Indigenous Circle” Series on CTV. The video looks frankly at David Ahenakew’s life (including the moments for which he was charged with hate speech), at the moment when hate charges against him were ultimately dismissed. It seems that August 2022 is a good time to reflect on how long and how strongly Indigenous voices have been speaking to the criminality of what happened here.

Another important link from this video is between David Ahenakew’s work creating SICC and SIFC (now First Nations University), and the late Freda Ahenakew’s work in the spin-off institution Saskatchewan Indian Languages Institute (SILI), of which she was founding director. Freda’s sister Grace was married to David, and Freda appears in several of the family photos. Their family connection was deeply important, but so was their shared vision of “Indian Control of Indian Education.”

If contemporary history is part of Cree Literacy, this is a piece we’re very proud to share, courtesy of CTV Regina, and Nelson Bird.

(For additional episodes of Indigenous Circle, including recent ones reflecting on the visit of Pope Francis, visit CTV Regina.)

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