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Allen was born in Aklavik, Northwest Territories as a member of the Gwich’in First Nation. At age eight, Allen went to Grollier Hall residential school in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. There, she learned how to ski at age 10. In 1968, at age 13, she became the youngest Canadian ever to win a Gold medal at the Canadian Junior Nordic Ski Championships, winning the 5 km race with a time of 25 minutes and 33 seconds. In 1972, at the Sapporo Olympics, Roseanne Allen and her teammates Sharon and Shirley Firth became the first Aboriginal women to represent Canada in any Olympic event. She placed 40th in the women’s 5 km race and 10th in the women’s 3x5 km relay there. After a short career as a competitive cross country skier, she retired from the national team in 1974 at the age of 20. In 1988, she moved to Sault Ste. Marie[clarification needed], Ontario, where she worked as part of the N’Mninoeyag[further explanation needed] health team at the Indian Friendship Centre.
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