Mrs. Desjarlais was born in the Grande Prairie area sixty-nine years ago. Her native language is Cree, although she is not a treaty Indian. Her father and older brother were well known by the first trappers or people of the area. Her father was a Calliou born at Lac St. Anne, but he came farther north for better hunting and trapping. She was sent to school for awhile at a Catholic Mission closer to Peace River. Her people took her back and forth by wagon team from Grande Prairie for fall and at Christmas time.
They continued to live for awhile at Sturgeon Lake after her father came to hunt in this area, and several times in the winter would drive with team and sleigh to Moberly Lake to visit her father, taking about two weeks for the trip with much suffering and frost-bite.
She married Bill Desjarlais when she was 21 years old at Sturgeon Lake and they moved back and forth for years as trapping or other available work made it necessary.
At one time she worked for Harry Garbitt’s family as housekeeper at Moberly Lake. At that time he was running the Hudson’s Bay Post and hauling mail from East Pine to Moberly Lake. Some of the Desjarlais boys helped cut a wagon road from Little Prairie to Graveyard Creek.
Mrs Desjarlais’ husband Bill passed away about three years ago. Bill Desjarlais was born at Lac St. Anne. His father came from Saddle Lake, Saskatchewan, at the time of the Riel Rebellion although little seems to be known of the circumstances of their journey. They had six children, four of whom were girls and live in Chetwynd with their families:
Mrs. Nelson (Mary) Ghostkeeper
Mrs. Robert (Joy) Noskiye
Mrs. Leonard (Florence) Gladue
Mrs. Harvey (Mildred) McFeeters
Her son Harvey makes his home with his mother part of the time. Her other son, Howard, passed away about ten years ago.
There were many tea dances held at Sun Dance Lake although Mrs. Desjarlais doesn’t know anything about any war dances.
There was lots of wild meat in the early years and she never wasted the hides. They were tanned and made into numerous articles of which some were sold. She also tanned many kinds of small furs, which were used for trim on mukluks. She also tanned bear and mountain goat hides for special customers. I called at her home at about eleven o’clock in the morning unannounced and was made welcome.
She lives in a fully modern three-bedroom house in the new housing development for Non-Status Indians in Chetwynd. Her daughter and granddaughter were both there and had their little children with them. Mrs Desjarlais was busy beading a moose hide purse for a special customer in Dawson Creek. She was also making a quilt from heavy materials and coloured appliqué. So even though she is happy with the modern way of life and glad to have the opportunity to take advantage of it, she keeps busy with her native crafts.