Born to humble origins, Bertha Clark-Jones was a visionary Métis leader, elder and woman.
Tuesday, Mar 03, 2015 06:00 am
What do you do when you’re an active member of your community, but you’ve officially reached retirement age? If you’re like Clark-Jones Clark-Jones, you ignore the calendar and continue to push for change.
Clark-Jones was a role model and a Métis elder. She was not afraid to speak up at council if she thought something was important. She always had time for young people and seniors, and she always helped others do their jobs well. Audrey Poitras, President of the Métis Nation of Alberta, says remembers a phone call she got from Clark-Jones when the Athabasca Métis local was working to beautify the Athabasca river landing. Clark-Jones phoned Poitras and said “I need you to come out and see me. I want a Red River Cart for the park. How can you help?” They found a cart, and it stands at the landing today. Clark-Jones passed away in October at the age of 91.
Born in Clear Hills, AB in 1922, Clark-Jones was the fifth of 14 children. She finished Grade 9 at the local school, but did not continue her education because it would mean leaving her family. At the beginning of World War II, Clark-Jones moved to Grand Prairie with her married sister and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Physical Training and Drill Instructor for the Women’s Division. While Clark-Jones was never sent overseas, she travelled across Canada for the RCAF. Clark-Jones never stopped fighting for what she believed in; after the war she was a leader in the woman’s rights movement in Canada. She founded the Alberta Native Women’s Voices with a group of friends in 1968 while living in Fort McMurray. The group fought discrimination against aboriginal women and tried to provide educational resources for women in remote communities. One of their biggest initiatives was to look for foster homes within aboriginal families so that children in need would not be removed from their communities.
Alberta Native Women’s Voices became the Native Woman’s Association of Canada (NWAC) in 1974 with Clark-Jones as its first president. Clark-Jones’ work in the NWAC was important because she understood that aboriginal women are not a single entity. She recognized the differences between Status, Non-Status, Métis and women whose mothers lost their status by marrying non-status men. The arbitrary divisions created by law meant that each of these groups had different needs and concerns. Yet, Clark-Jones also knew that they had much in common and that working together was important. Her efforts were key to steering the NWAC to advocate for all aboriginal women. Clark-Jones was recognized many times for her work. In 2002 she was one of 20 Métis veterans to receive a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2007 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada for Social Service in 2008. Clark-Jones knew how to get others motivated. “She always understood the importance of women having the recognition they deserved and to be supported,” says Poitras. “Bertha was an active member of the aboriginal community as a whole, but she was especially a proud Métis woman.”