Finding her Passion
Amy Clemons, the great-great granddaughter of Chief Peguis was born in St. Peters, in 1906. She attended Elkhorn Residential School for five years of her education. “My people didn’t want to let me go away to school but I thought I would like going to a residential school and I really did enjoy my years there” – Amy Clemons. After completing school up until grade eleven, she began to work in Mission schools and hospitals. Amy worked at Dynevor Indian Hospital before moving to Winnipeg to work at the Winnipeg Friendship Centre. She spent six years there as a community worker. Additionally, she became the president of the Ladies Aid Organization.
When Amy returned to Selkirk in 1968, she took up the position of Executive Director at the Selkirk Friendship Centre, replacing Ed Stonechild. Her experience in Winnipeg made her the perfect fit, and she quickly became the momentum behind the Friendship Centre movement in Selkirk.
Amy was an ‘ardent worker’ and strove to provide a place where people could gather. The Friendship Centre facilitated a place for people to speak to others in their own language, receive advice, or assistant finding homes and jobs. “The most important thing of all is friendship. To be able to help my people when they need it is what really counts” – Amy Clemons.
Amy spoke Cree and arranged lessons in the Cree language every Sunday followed by Fireside Hour and films. In 1970, Amy starred in a CBC film, “Death of a Nobody.” The film was about an Indigenous boy who was murdered and nothing was done about it. She arranged a showing of the film in Selkirk to address prejudice.
Amy organized the Teen Club which participated in projects such as camping for the weekend to clean up St. Peter’s Old Stone Church. As organist at the St. Peters Dynevor Church Amy spent a lot of time there. She was the President of the Women’s Auxiliary and received life membership in 1953.
The Friendship Centre held Walkathons from Winnipeg Beach to Selkirk, and later, another from Winnipeg to Selkirk. No matter the activity, Amy was always involved. At 63 years old she was the oldest participant at the Walkathon, and she completed the entire distance.
Recognition and Celebration
The Women’s Advertising and Sales Club of Manitoba named Amy the 1970 ‘Woman of the Year’. The award was made at the organization’s annual ‘Boss n’ Slave Night’ at the Fort Garry Hotel. Mr. John Fisher presented the award and stated, “[I] hope that the white man may finally get the cobwebs out of his head by the year 2000, allowing the Indian to stand tall and women to be fully emancipated.”
In the same year, Amy took a leading role in several Manitoba Centennial events, such as greeting Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family on behalf of the descendants of Chief Peguis.
In 1972, Amy was made an honorary citizen of Selkirk and given the Community Service Award by Mayor Frank Malis. A surprise party was organized to recognize her community service contributions in Selkirk. 250 people attended, which was 100 more than the hall had capacity to hold. Somehow, they all fit, and no one was turned away without a meal.
When presenting the award, Frank Malis said, “I have never met any individual who knows, loves, and has gained the respect of more persons than Mrs. Clemons. Without her leadership and dedicated work, the Friendship Centre Movement would not be as strong as it is. She is respected by local clubs and organizations as well as government bodies.”
Amy received gifts, a plaque engraved with a tribute to her, and a dress, beadwork, a medallion belt, and several accessories in her choice of colour and design, to be handmade by Mrs. Dorothy Francis in Saskatchewan. This was a gift she had always wanted.
One year later she was inducted into the Order of Canada for her ‘devoted social work and leadership in Indian Métis societies in Manitoba.’ Governor General Roland Michener presented the honour. 1973 also marked her retirement as Executive Director of the Selkirk Friendship Centre. In 1977, Amy received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.
Amy’s calling was creating friendships and facilitating a space for everyone to have their needs met. She spent a full life doing just that, driving the Friendship Centre Movement, helping women and youth, speaking up about prejudice, and setting a foundation that has been built on since.
Amy passed away on September 14, 1989, and is buried in the St. Peters Churchyard Cemetery
Amy Clemons Collection
25 Years of Bringing People Together – Selkirk Friendship Centre Anniversary Booklet
History of Selkirk Friendship Centre
Manitoba Historical Society
National Association of Friendship Centres
The Governor General of Canada website
Selkirk Enterprise 1970 and 1973