Four Remarkable Women from Lac La Ronge Indian Band Shine at 2024 Strength of our Women Awards

Submitted, Lac La Ronge Indian Band

Chief Tammy Cook-Searson proudly announces the recognition of four esteemed members of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band at the 2024 Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Strength of our Women Awards held on May 31st at Saskatoon Prairieland Park. These awards celebrate the outstanding achievements and contributions of Indigenous women across Saskatchewan.

“We are immensely proud of Elder Sally Milne, Cst. Wanda McKenzie, Minnie McKenzie, and Brielle Ulriksen for their remarkable achievements and contributions. Their dedication and leadership embody the strength and resilience of Indigenous women, and they serve as an inspiration to us all.”

– Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

Cst. Wanda McKenzie: Trailblazing Indigenous Representation in the RCMP

Cst. Wanda McKenzie received the award for Law & Justice for her trailblazing work in promoting Indigenous representation within the RCMP. Her dedication and leadership have significantly enhanced relationships with First Nations communities, making her a role model for Indigenous female police officers. Submitted photo.

2024 Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Strength of our Women Awards – Law & Justice

Professionalism, leadership, and fairness in the fields of policing, law, the Canadian Court system, First Nations justice initiatives, politics and justice, or human rights.

Constable Wanda McKenzie, a proud Cree woman, has dedicated her life to serving her community and promoting Indigenous representation in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Born and raised in Brabant Lake, Saskatchewan, Cst. McKenzie grew up in a tight-knit community of 120 people where families lived off the land through hunting, fishing, and trapping. Her upbringing instilled a deep respect for her culture and language, shaping her into the strong and compassionate leader she is today.

Chief Superintendent Teddy Munro of the Saskatchewan RCMP remarked, “Cst. McKenzie has demonstrated exceptional skills and dedication in her policing duties and has made significant contributions in enhancing relationships with First Nations communities, recruiting Indigenous applicants, and serving as a role model for Indigenous female police officers.”

Cpl Kim Gobeil, who has worked closely with Cst. McKenzie in the RCMP’s Indigenous Recruiting Unit, added, “Wanda has been a leader in Indigenous recruitment. She draws on her knowledge of culture, language, and tradition to assist in recruiting Indigenous people to join the RCMP. Her ability to speak fluent Cree at recruiting events has broken down barriers in communities and shown the RCMP’s commitment to this program.”

After 20 years of serving in various Indigenous communities, Cst. McKenzie now works in Indigenous Recruiting, encouraging and supporting Indigenous individuals to join the police force. She recognizes the immense value that First Nations and Métis people bring to policing, particularly their language and community experience.

Through her work, Cst. McKenzie provides one-on-one mentorship and opportunities for Indigenous applicants to explore a career with the RCMP. Her passion is to create a more inclusive and representative police force, one that truly serves and understands the communities it protects. “Cst. McKenzie’s deep understanding of Indigenous cultures, coupled with her compassionate and respectful approach, has led to stronger, more trustful partnerships,” added Chief Superintendent Munro.

Cst. McKenzie’s message is clear: learning Indigenous languages like Cree and Dene is crucial for building stronger relationships with communities and enhancing policing. She encourages others to embrace their cultural heritage and use their knowledge to make a positive impact. Through her tireless efforts, Cst. McKenzie is paving the way for a new generation of Indigenous leaders and police officers, inspiring them to create positive change in their communities.

Elder Sally Milne: Guardian of Culture, Art, and Traditional Knowledge

Sally Milne was honoured with the Matriarch award for her unwavering commitment to preserving Cree culture, art, and traditional knowledge. As a revered traditional Cree Elder and accomplished artist, Sally’s efforts have had a profound impact on her community and beyond, ensuring the continuity of Woodland Cree heritage for future generations. Submitted photo.

2024 Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Strength of our Women Awards – Matriarch

The strength of a family or community.

Sally Milne is a revered Traditional Cree (nehithuw) Elder with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and serves as the resident Elder at the Woodland Wellness Centre. Her contributions span culture, spirituality, art, and Indigenous traditional knowledge, marking her as an integral figure in her community.

In 1984, Sally began teaching Cree Culture at a LLRIB school, where she developed the influential teacher’s guide “Mithopimatisiwin: Living in a Good Way.” This guide, outlining how to live according to Woodland Cree values, including the Seven Grandfather Teachings, has been featured in numerous academic journals.

Janet Daigneault, one of Sally’s supporters from Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, remarked, “Since 1984, Sally has been a pioneer in Cree cultural education. Her teacher’s guide established a benchmark for articulating Woodland Cree values. This work is vital for future generations to understand the Woodland Cree experience and history.”

Recently, Sally documented the “500-year Bridge Theory” on the colonization of the Woodland Cree from an Indigenous perspective. This critical document ensures that their historical narrative is preserved and respected.

An accomplished artist, Sally specializes in traditional birch bark art. Her unique and intricate pieces, which has been featured on platforms like Martha Hopkins Struever’s collection and BBC’s ‘Northern Wilderness.

“As an accomplished artist in traditional birch bark art, Sally has become a cultural ambassador,” added Janet Daigneault. “Her intricate birch bark biting pieces have gained widespread media attention, highlighting her talent and dedication.”

Sally’s leadership extends beyond her artistry. She has been pivotal in preserving Indigenous knowledge, traditional practices, ceremonial practices, and teachings. Her commitment to upholding traditional values has earned her widespread recognition, including prestigious awards such as the Governor General Centennial Award and being named Woman of the Year in La Ronge.

Candace Roberts and Valerie McLeod, who work with Sally at the Woodland Wellness Centre, wrote in their letter of support: “Mitho-Pimatisowin (to live a good way by relating to life on the land) has been one of the many teachings that Elder Sally shares with those that are willing to listen and learn how to recognize and reclaim who we are as Indigenous people.”

“Sally’s leadership in preserving Indigenous knowledge and cultural teachings has earned her widespread recognition,” concluded Daigneault. “Her tireless efforts ensure the promotion and preservation of Woodland Cree culture for future generations.”

Sally Milne’s contributions have profoundly impacted her community and beyond, cementing her legacy as a guardian of Woodland Cree heritage and a source of inspiration for future generations.

Minnie McKenzie: Champion of Cree Language and Culture Revitalization

Minnie McKenzie was recognized with the Culture and Spirituality award for her lifelong dedication to the revitalization of the Cree language and culture. Her work as a Cree Language & Culture Coordinator and her contributions to language curriculum development have been instrumental in preserving Cree language and traditions. Submitted photo.

2024 Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Strength of our Women Awards – Culture & Spirituality

The promotion of First Nations culture, language and values while living a clean and healthy lifestyle, dedication to preserving traditions and customs, and representing First Nations culture and people in a respectful and tolerant manner.

Minnie McKenzie, Cree Language & Culture Coordinator, has dedicated her life’s work to preserving and promoting her native language. Born and raised in Amachewespimawin (Stanley Mission), Minnie’s educational journey began at home, where she learned Woodland Cree as her first language. Her family played a significant role in shaping her education and personal life.

Minnie completed her kindergarten to grade twelve education in her home community before pursuing higher education. In 1989, she was accepted into the Northern Professional Access Program (NORPAC) to study Arts and Science. She later transferred to the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP) to pursue a degree in Education. After graduating in 1993, Minnie began her teaching career at Pre-Cam Elementary School.

In 2009, Minnie earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Regina. Her career took a significant turn in 1999 when she was hired by LLRIB as a Woodland Cree Language Consultant and Curriculum Developer. Minnie played a crucial role in forming partnerships with other organizations and served as the Site-Coordinator for the Gift of Language and Culture Project.

Michelle McCallum, Director of Education at LLRIB, praises Minnie’s contributions: “Her passion for our Cree culture and language is evident in her advocacy, program initiatives, and activism each day. Minnie encompasses the values of the Cree culture and language in her daily life. Her pride is shown through her actions, her laughter, and her love. Minnie is generous with her traditional knowledge and encourages everyone to speak Cree and live in a good way. It is never in a demanding way; she has the most humble and unapologetic way of bringing forward her desire to share Cree with others.”

In addition to her work developing language curriculum for the LLRIB, Minnie was approached by Chief Tammy Cook-Searson to work on a vital language project. Over eight years, Minnie dedicated her spare time to redeveloping and creating an electronic version of the original Woodlands Cree dictionary, first developed by Collin Charles and Keith Goulet. The electronic version of the “new” Collin Charles Cree Dictionary was officially released in February 2023.

Simon Bird, former Director of Education of LLRIB and a current PhD student at the University of Victoria, highlights Minnie’s impact: “Minnie McKenzie is well known in the field of Education, Indigenous Language Revitalization, and Land-based learning. Her passion in these areas extends into Alberta and Manitoba. She is an exceptional advocate for Indigenous Languages. Her work has helped to develop the website, refine the Cree dictionary in northern Saskatchewan, and she is often sought for her knowledge of the Cree language and traditional medicines.”

Minnie’s commitment to her community and culture is evident in her lifelong dedication to language preservation and education. Her work ensures that the Woodland Cree language and culture will be passed down to future generations, keeping the traditions and heritage alive for many years to come.

Brielle Ulriksen: Young Trailblazer Embracing Tradition and Excellence

Brielle Ulriksen, a 10-year-old trailblazer, received the Youth award for her passion and dedication to learning and preserving First Nations customs and traditions. Her enthusiasm for traditional knowledge and cultural practices promises a bright future for the traditions she cherishes. Submitted photo.

2024 Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Strength of our Women Awards – Youth (18 and under)

Dedication and passion for First Nations customs and traditions. Nominees display distinction in their field of study, integrity, respect, andact as a role model for First Nations youth.

Brielle Ulriksen, a 10-year-old girl with an insatiable curiosity and an old soul, is dedicated to learning and expanding her understanding of traditional and cultural ways of life. Growing up in the North’s wild playground, her inquisitive energy drives her to explore and understand the natural world.

At the trapline, Brielle learns essential skills like snaring rabbits, changing socks during winter travel, looking for signs of animals and planning for the remoteness. Her respect for nature is evident in her careful approach to foraging and medicine gathering, including picking medicines, foraging wild blueberries, and making salves and essential oil products for healing.

Brielle’s practical skills extend to baking mini bannock, snaring fish, cutting and packing moose meat, and fishing with patience. She enjoys crafting and making small blanket wraps for those close to her. Her love for animals shows in her close observations to understand their behavior. Gardening brings her satisfaction as she sees her efforts come to fruition.

Understanding the importance of respecting Mother Earth, Brielle is meticulous about how much she forages, ensuring there is enough left for others that follow behind. She eagerly helps and continuously seeks to learn new things, appreciating the value in Indigenous ways of life.

Her principal Emilie Wolfe at St. Mary School in North Battleford praises her dedication and skills in the classroom: “Brielle is a student who works very hard in all subject areas. A strength of hers is Physical Education, where she has shown amazing stamina by winning our St. Mary’s Jump Rope contest, outlasting all students from grades 2-7. She also won the Knights of Columbus free throw contest for her age group. She is a very responsible student, and the teachers can always count on her to make good decisions.”

Brielle has also been recognized for her character, winning the monthly strength award for Harmony, which aligns with the sacred teaching of Respect. Her teacher adds, “Brielle has a very calming, peaceful, and loving personality. She consistently shows respect to her classmates, always making sure people are included and nobody is left out. She helps her classmates and considers their opinions to make them feel valuable in the classroom and their work.”

Brielle Ulriksen blends youthful curiosity with timeless wisdom, making her a true steward of traditional knowledge and cultural practices. Her dedication to learning and preserving these ways of life promises a bright future for the traditions she cherishes.