Ruth Carol AHENAKEW, a member of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on June 16th, 1950; the daughter of Lance and Grace AHENAKEW. She grew up on the Ahtahkakoop Cree First Nation with her family where she completed elementary school. Without a high school to attend, Ruth left her First Nation and attended Nutana Collegiate in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from 1964 to 1968. Following graduation, Ruth attended Lutheran Collegiate Bible Institute at Outlook, Saskatchewan for a year and then attended the Saskatoon Business College. A job at Saskatchewan Telecommunications followed but she left to further her education at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Science in 1973.
In a glimpse of what was to come, Ruth told a friend “if the RCMP ever accepts women I’m going to be the first in line”. In the fall of 1974, the RCMP changed its policies and began to accept females as regular member applicants. Ruth immediately applied. Her application was nearing completion when a recruiter in Saskatoon rejected it and told her to reapply at the detachment nearest her home. Undeterred, Ruth quickly reapplied at Shellbrook Detachment (Saskatchewan). During that application process the interviewer tried to convince her to apply as a Special Aboriginal Constable. Ruth declined. She believed a Cree woman could introduce positive change in how the RCMP served Aboriginal citizens and was convinced that being a regular member was the best way to attain her goal. Through her thoughtful responses she convinced the interviewer she would make a desirable applicant. As a result, Ruth was engaged in the 2nd RCMP female recruit troop on March 9th, 1975. As a member of Troop #36 (1975) Ruth became one of the initial 64 females to ever wear the Red Serge but most notably, Ruth was the very FIRST First Nation female regular member in the history of the RCMP.
In March 1975 significant internal change was occurring within the RCMP as females were being included in the organization. For over 100 years RCMP policies, practices, and procedures were based on its cadre of male regular members. Bringing females into the Force involved more than an evaluation and modification of various uniform and kit. The RCMP had to make significant and monumental organizational change as females began to conduct police duties as members of the Force. Ruth Ahenakew and her female troop mates were at the forefront of that groundbreaking change.
In September 1975, following recruit training, Cst. Ruth Ahenakew was posted to Melfort Detachment (Saskatchewan). Like all new members she had a significant learning curve. She was expected to quickly learn her operational duties and responsibilities, adopt proven techniques, and deliver professional policing services for a large geographic area. The fact she was the first female member posted to Melfort Detachment also posed a learning curve for the other detachment members, staff and community citizens. Interestingly, Melfort Detachment provided police services for two First Nations. For those citizens it was an extraordinary sight to see a Cree person from Saskatchewan wearing an RCMP uniform; to witness that uniform on a Cree woman was revolutionary.
By today’s standards, the attitudes and reactions Ruth met as a female RCMP member would likely appear sexist, racist, patronizing, and old fashioned but she persevered as a professional and made a positive influence on RCMP services in her detachment area and even beyond. Despite some opinions at the time that female members would be more hindrance than help, Ruth proved female members were as valuable to community safety as their male counterparts.
While performing court liaison duties at the Melfort Courthouse Ruth met an RCMP constable from another detachment who was there for a trial. The relationship grew beyond that initial meeting and on April 2nd, 1977 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Cst. Ruth C. Ahenakew married Cst. H. Darrell M. Madill (by then a member of Pangnirtung Detachment (Nunavut)).
Unfortunately, in 1977, the RCMP did not post female members to northern divisions due to operational and relocation challenges. As a result, the only way Ruth could join her husband in Pangnirtung was to resign from the Force; a choice she reluctantly made days following their marriage. A few weeks later the newly married couple were residing in Pangnirtung, Nunavut just south of the Arctic Circle.
Although no longer a regular member, Ruth continued to provide valuable support for RCMP services in the northern communities where she and her husband lived. During the years Ruth resided in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (1977-1985), centralized police dispatch facilities to communicate with members, as well as to accept and relay calls for service, did not exist. Radio communications between detachment members was confined to the physical boundaries of the host community. As a result, wives of detachment members regularly acted as radio dispatchers, telephone responders, office clerks, and occasionally acted as guards/matrons. Another vital role was the provision of meals for prisoners in custody. Local providers did not always exist or were not open when needed so it was a common practice in small isolated detachments for wives to prepare meals. Ruth preformed all these duties. Her previous training and experience made her more than capable of supporting her husband and other detachment members as they responded to the policing challenges at isolated RCMP detachments.
Besides assisting detachment members, Ruth held a variety of jobs in support of the communities where she lived. These included: working at several northern schools as a substitute teacher or as an administrative assistant; working for commercial airlines or local charter airlines in various capacities; and serving as a civilian officer in the Army Cadet program at Pangnirtung and the Air Cadet program at Iqaluit.
Throughout their life together Ruth, as well as the children, accompanied her husband on his frequent transfers with the RCMP. After leaving the north in 1985 Ruth took on a new challenge. She became a small business entrepreneur for several years however she never lost her interest in supporting public safety and community wellness; the same interests which lead her to apply for the RCMP in 1974. From April 1990 until early 1992 she was employed as the curriculum developer and coordinator of the Two-Year Native Child Care Program at Yellowquill College at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
Ruth was next employed as the Manager of the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) Aboriginal Services at Regina, Saskatchewan from August 1994 to April 1998. CESO, a not-for-profit organization, was dedicated to the advancement and well-being of Aboriginal communities and businesses. As the Saskatchewan manager, Ruth deployed experienced volunteer advisors with a wide range of expertise to support Aboriginal businesses and communities in Saskatchewan and on occasion to international locations.
Ruth’s interest in community justice was something engrained in her from an early age. It led her to the RCMP in 1974 and to participate in several community justice-oriented volunteer experiences, particularly during the 1990’s, in Saskatchewan. Those experiences led her to employment with the Saskatchewan government where she was hired in April 1998 by Saskatchewan Justice as the Community Justice Program Manager. In that role she managed programs and initiatives dedicated to the development and implementation of innovative alternative justice approaches for the Province. Many of which focused on Aboriginal communities.
In conjunction with another transfer, this time to Manitoba, Ruth took her recent expertise and experience from Saskatchewan, to the Government of Manitoba. Ruth was employed by Manitoba Justice as the Director of Community and Aboriginal Justice in November 2005 to once again lead programs and initiatives dedicated to the development and implementation of innovative alternative justice approaches for that province. Ruth retired from Manitoba Justice in December 2010.
Besides an impressive employment career Ruth committed herself to volunteer work in every community where she lived. The most significant are:
• Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations “School to Work Transition Program” – Committee Member – 1995-1998
• Saskatchewan Securities Commission – Commission Member 1996-1998
• Youth Unlimited – Regina Aboriginal Youth Development Committee – Member & Mentor – 1995-1998
• Saskatchewan Aboriginal Youth Awards of Excellence – Co-Chair – 1998-1999
• SaskTel Scholarship Selections Committee – Member – 1999-2000
• SaskTel Scholarship Committee to Identify and Select Programs to Eliminate and Prevent the Abuse of Children – Member – 1999
• Wicihitowin Foundation – Board Member – 1998-2000
• Circle Project – Council Member – 1996-2000
• Regina Aboriginal Professional Association – Volunteer 1995-2000 and President 1999-2000 (first female president).
In recognition of her many contributions to Saskatchewan Citizens Ruth was awarded the 2000 Saskatchewan Women of Distinction Award in the category “Community or Humanitarian Service”.
Throughout her life, Ruth continually sought out and supported opportunities to assist Aboriginal people and communities. From an early age she decided to make a difference and in so doing consistently challenged social norms concerning the role of women and Aboriginal women in particular. Whether at the professional or the volunteer level this Cree woman was determined to improve communities and assist their citizens at every level. She dedicated herself to bridge the gap between cultures, not just for the benefit of Aboriginal peoples, but for the betterment of all Canadians.
During their marriage, Ruth Ahenakew and Darrell Madill were blessed with four children, all of whom were born while the couple lived in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. One of their children Nora G. Madill joined the RCMP in 2005 with Regimental #52807.
Considering Ruth’s humble beginnings, the challenges she faced as a First Nations person and the complications posed by her gender, it is quite extraordinary what this very FIRST female First Nation regular member of the RCMP from Ahtahkakoop Cree First Nation accomplished.