Edward Ahenakew

(1885–1961). A Plains Cree, grandnephew of the famous Cree chief Poundmaker, he was born on the Ah-tah-ka-koops Reserve at Sandy Lake, north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and attended the day school there. At the age of eleven he entered Emmanuel College Indian Boarding School, where he completed his high-school education with distinction. After two years' study at the Anglican Wycliffe College, Toronto, he completed his studies in theology at Emmanuel College in Saskatoon, graduating in 1910 with the degree of licentiate in theology. He was appointed deacon the same year and in 1912 was ordained an Anglican priest. His first mission was at Onion Lake, Saskatchewan. During the influenza outbreak of 1918, the suffering of his people affected him so deeply that he decided he could serve them better if he had a knowledge of medicine. In 1918 he was granted a three-year study leave at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, but ill health prevented him from completing his course. In 1923, while still recuperating, he collected the tales of his people from Chief Thunder Child (1849–1927) and created the stories of Old Keyam, which were published posthumously in Voices of the Plains Cree (1973), edited by Ruth M. Buck. He also completed Cree trickster tales, which appeared in The journal of American folk-lore, vol. 42 (Oct.-Dec.1929). Once his health was restored he was assigned the supervision of Native missions in the huge northwestern area of the diocese. In 1932 he was named General Indian Missionary for the northern Diocese of Saskatchewan and in 1933 he was appointed honorary canon of St Alban's Cathedral, Prince Albert. Because of the shortage of men and the financial condition of the diocese, in 1935 he was once again asked to take a mission post. For more than twenty years, even past his official retirement age of seventy, he was in charge of the Fort à la Corne mission. For over thirty years he published the Cree Monthly Guide in syllabics. He also helped edit a 26,000 word Cree-English dictionary, which was published in 1938.

Emmanuel College (Saskatoon) awarded Ahenakew, in 1947, an honorary D.D.; he was the first Cree clergyman to receive this. Lake Ahenakew, in the Wooleston Lake area of northern Sakatchewan, was named in his honour.
Voices of the Plains Cree
Author: Edward Ahenakew
Traditional Territory: Cree
Format: Paperback
  • When buffalo were many on the western plains, when Cree and Blackfoot warred in unrelenting enmity, when the Sun Dance and the shaking tent were still a way of life these were the days of Chief Thundershild (1849-1927). His stories of a fierce and vanished freedom are reprinted here, exactly as he told them to Edward Ahenakew in 1923. His voice, simple and poetic, resonates with the wide expanse of sky, the song of the wind, the sound of water.

    The other voice in this volume is equally moving, but in a very different way. It is the voice of Old Keyam, pained and angry, raised in protest against the Indians' lethargy and the white man's insensitivity. A fictional character, semi-autobiographical, he is very much the voice of Edward Ahenakew, telling of life on the reservations in the new white world of the early twentieth century.

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