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 returned to University and completed her teacher training at SFU, and since then 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). She has been actively involved on various boards, including the Mackenzie River Basin Board, serving three years on the Traditional Knowledge and Strengthening Partnerships Steering Committee. 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, current co-chair of the Keepers of the Water Council, and a member of the (UofA Governors Advisory Circle), and sits on the Elders Advisory Council for Treaty 8 Association of Alberta.
For four years, Cleo has coordinated the Healing Gathering for the Land, Water, and People—an event that evolved organically out of the Tarsands Healing Walk (an internationally recognized event held from 2009 to 2014 by Keepers of the Athabasca and partners). The Healing Gathering 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 national and international gatherings of indigenous and grassroots organizations. In late 2020, Cleo became the Director of the Community Wellness department for her first nation and continues to work for healing and wellness in her community.