Jean Okimâsis: 2024 Woman of Distinction

We are so very proud to share news that Jean Okimâsis, our Honorary Founder, dear friend, and tremendous inspiration, accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award yesterday from the YWCA Regina Women of Distinction Awards.

kahkiyaw awiya kihcêyimikow: She is highly thought of by everyone.

It’s such a privilege to have Jean as an associate and mentor, and to try through our work here to promote the legacy she’s spent a lifetime building to support and bring dignity to the Cree language. I’m grateful to Adrienne Soroka from the committee for letting me add a bit to the video she prepared, to acknowledge what Jean’s contribution means to us here. Laura Burnouf (on FaceBook) sums up our feelings well: “This is so touching and beautiful. ninanâskomâw Jean for all she has done and continues to do in Cree nêhiyawēwin education. I know that I would have been lost in those early years without her guidance and resources.” (Click here to find some of Jean’s many contributions to CLN.)

Here’s what Jean’s husband Arok Wolvengrey had to say (along with his photos):

Dear Friends and Family,

I am very pleased to share with you all that today, the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards committee presented my beautiful wife, Jean Okimâsis, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for all her work and dedication to Cree language education.

It was a wonderful ceremony, at which she was presented with a Starblanket Quilt (see photo) which seemingly upgrades her from okimâsis to okimâskwêw, mâka wiya niya, nikihc-ôkimâskwêm.

Thank you to all those who spoke to the organizing committee and contributed to the wonderful tribute video:

  • Solomon Ratt (her former student and our longtime colleague and friend),
  • Debra Murray (Jean otânisa; omisa otânisiyiwa),
  • Sophie Martine (Jean ôsisima) ,
  • Arden Ogg (our friend and colleague of many years and director of the Cree Literacy Network),
  • Karen Clark (our friend in the publishing world, for many years championing our books at the U of R Press),
  • Louise Halfe (our dear friend, with whom Jean has worked on editing the Cree content in her poetry),
  • Tanya Maxie (a former student of Jean’s and now a veteran Cree instructor herself),
  • Lori Campbell (another former student and Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina), and
  • Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, CEO at YWCA Regina (with apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone).

Arok’s photos of the occasion:

  • Jean’s portrait for the award;
  • Jean with colleagues in the 1980s, l-to-r: Jean, Solomon, Emily Hunter, Darren Okemaysim, and Marjorie (Memnook) White;
  • 1990s Cree Language Retention Committee, back row; Laura Burnouf, Edie Hyggen, Minnie Mckenzie, Jean; front row Eleanor Hegland, Solomon, Arok;
  • a photo from the awards ceremony with l-to-r: Solomon, Sophie Martine, Louise Halfe, Arok, Jean, and Debra;
  • the Star Quilt that Jean was gifted.

One Response

  1. Tansi
    Miywâsin mâka Mistahi wîcihtasô jean… ninanâskomon!…
    Kîhtwam mina misowâc … e- nitîhkiyôkatakok mâna
    It’s wonderful to see Jean accomplish so much… it’s very important and helpful to the indigenous community
    We will meet again… and will visit in the very near future


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