We are so very sad at the passing of Ikkináínihki (Gentle Singer) Dr. Lena Heavy Shields Russell (BEd ’77, LLD ’06) on March 29, 2024.

Lena spent her entire working life promoting and teaching Niitsi’powahsin, the Blackfoot language. She taught in the public schools on and off reserve as well as at Iniskim University of Lethbridge, where she taught Advanced Spoken Blackfoot courses in the early 2000s. To support Blackfoot language teaching in the schools, Ikkináínihki published a series of textbooks for the middle and high school level that remains one of the most comprehensive teaching resources available. Dr. Heavy Shields Russell collaborated extensively on language-related projects. She was one of the principal consultants of the Blackfoot Dictionary of Stems, Roots and Affixes, co-edited by the late Donald Frantz with Lena’s daughter Norma Russell. Frantz also acknowledges her important contribution to his understanding of the language in his Blackfoot Grammar. In 2014 she published Ákaitsinikssiistsi: Blackfoot Stories of Old. Her various publications are listed on our Resources page.

Dr. Heavy Shields Russell was rightfully proud of her accomplishments. Her important work was recognized by an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Lethbridge in 2006. In 2018 she received the Esquao Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW). In 2021 she was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

We are grateful and proud to have known Ikkináínihki and thankful for her long life and the professional and personal impact she has had on so many people.

A full obituary can be viewed here.

A condolence notice from the University of Lethbridge can be found here.