Cleo Desjarlais Reece was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta to Cree and Metis parents. She was raised in Edmonton and later moved to B.C, where she raised a family of four children.
She went back to University and completed her teacher training at SFU in Vancouver. Since then she has worked in various capacities as a teacher, cultural programmer, education advisor, media arts producer and trainer (founder of the Indigenous Media Arts Group in Vancouver and ImageNation Film festival, for seven years.).
She has been actively involved on different boards, the Mackenzie River Basin Board as then Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta designate, serving three years and as a member of the Traditional Knowledge and Strengthening Partnerships Steering Committee worked on the draft proposal for Tracking Change a multi-year program of research in indigenous knowledge and river-based communities. She is a member of Fort McMurray First Nation and a past Band Councillor.
Cleo is a strong believer in advocacy and action and has been instrumental in many initiatives including the first women's memorial march for missing and murdered indigenous women; a founding member of Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Society,and current co-chair present executive member of the Athabasca Watershed Council and also a member of the Fort McMurray First Nation Gregoire Lake Watershed elders group.
Cleo is the coordinator for the Healing Gathering for the Land, Water, and People. This event evolved organically out of the Tarsands Healing Walk, an internationally famous event produced by Keepers of the Athabasca along with many other partners and held each year for five years. The Healing Gathering, now in its fourth year, focuses on cultural, mental, physical, and emotional healing.
She is now a proud grandmother and believes in passing on knowledge that will benefit the next generations. She has attended international gatherings of indigenous and grassroots including Sol2Sol Climate gathering in San Francisco and Indigenous Peoples Climate Action in Washington state Her most recent panel discussion at U of Alberta at the Ethical Space for Knowledge Coproduction Workshop in Community Based Monitoring in Edmonton.
"Water is sacred, not a commodity to be bought and sold, we must protect our water for future generations",