Thelma Chalifoux

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Thelma Chalifoux
Senator for Alberta, Canada
In office
November 26, 1997 – February 8, 2004
Appointed byJean Chrétien
Personal details
Born(1929-02-08)February 8, 1929
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
DiedSeptember 22, 2017(2017-09-22) (aged 88)
St. Albert, Alberta, Canada
Political partyLiberal
Residence(s)St. Albert, Alberta

Thelma J. Chalifoux (February 8, 1929 – September 22, 2017) was a Canadian teacher and senator.[1]


Chalifoux was born in Calgary, Alberta on February 8, 1929.[2][1] One of five children, her mother, Helené, helped support the family by trading garden grown vegetables. Her father, Paul Villeneuve, was a residential school survivor and served in the First World War working as a carpenter and farm hand.[3] She studied sociology at Lethbridge Community College and later took courses in construction estimation at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.[1][4]

Chalifoux was a social justice activist and politician, and an active figure in the Métis community. As an employee of the government agency Company of Young Canadians, she worked to advance community development initiatives in northern communities and advocated for improved housing conditions.[5][4] Chalifoux co-founded the Slave Lake Friendship Centre, assisting women struggling with alcoholism and domestic abuse. She additionally championed for the teaching of Cree in northern schools.[1] Along with her community work, Chalifoux produced programming focused on Métis culture and history. She was the first woman to host a weekly show "Smoke Signals from the Peace" on Peace River's CKYL Radio and was the co-producer of the Allarcom series Our Native Heritage. In 1994 she founded and became senior partner of Chalifoux and Associates Educational and Economic Consulting. She also owned Secret Garden Originals, a craft and floral design business.[6]

Chalifoux was appointed to the Canadian Senate on the advice of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on November 26, 1997, making her the first Indigenous woman and fourth Metis person to serve in the Canadian Senate, following Richard Hardisty, William Albert Boucher, and Gerry St. Germain.[7][8] She held the position until 2004 when, at the age of 75, she retired and returned to Alberta.[5] The following year Alberta Venture magazine ranked her number 8 on their list of 50 Greatest Albertans.[9]

After her retirement, she founded the Michif Cultural and Resource Institute now the Michif Cultural Connections Company, an organization dedicated to preserving and sharing Métis history of Alberta.[5][2] Chalifoux was the first woman to receive the National Aboriginal Achievement Award – known today as the Indspire Award - in 1994.

Chalifoux died at the age of 88 surrounded by her family on September 22, 2017, after a period of failing health.[1][2]

On May 8, 2018, the Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees voted to name the new Thelma Chalifoux School (grade 7- 9) in Larkspur in her honour.[10]

Métis Association[edit]

Chalifoux, joined the Métis Association in the late 1960s during early growth of local level activism within Métis communities.[11] Upon joining, Chalifoux strove to fix major issues affecting the Metis by advocating within governmental bodies. She argued that there was inadequate levels of social welfare programs despite clear indication that Métis communities were among a large majority of those in Canada not meeting their basic needs.[12] Chalifoux, advocated for the increase of affordable shelter, food, and higher welfare grants and subsidies for Métis families. She later focused her efforts on the formation of the Welfare Unit, a group of investigators that looked into complaints concerning the Alberta Government Welfare Department dealings with Métis communities and families. Her efforts exposed welfare injustices like those that occurred at Fort Chippewa concerning the lack of funds given to various families in desperate need of assistance. Her investigations revealed accounts like that of a widow parenting "five children [and was given] $60 a month to live on."[11] She took special interest in helping disadvantaged Métis women who had fallen through the cracks of government bureaucracy and otherwise would have remained voiceless.

Awards and honours[edit]

  • National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1995)[7]
  • Métis National Council Lifetime Achievement Award (2014).[2]
  • Honorary Doctorate, University of Toronto (2004). (Awarded for her advocacy work.)


  1. ^ a b c d e Heidenreich, Phil (24 September 2017). "Thelma Chalifoux, Canada's first Indigenous woman to be appointed to Senate, dies at 88". Global News. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Jones, Susan (27 September 2017). "Chalifoux remembered as Métis advocate". St. Albert Gazette. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  3. ^ Chalifoux, Jenna (2016). "Metis Matriarch – Thelma Chalifoux". Edmonton City As Museum Project ECAMP. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Senator Thelma Chalifoux". Inspire. 20 November 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Thelma Chalifoux, former senator and Métis activist, dies in Alberta at 88". CBC News. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  6. ^ Barkwell, Lawrence.
  7. ^ a b Lusty, Terry. "Thelma Chalifoux". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Heritage Community Foundation. Archived from the original on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  8. ^ Sutherland, Shannon. "Speak Loudly, Influence People". Alberta Venture. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  9. ^ "The 50 Greatest Albertans". Alberta Venture. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Thelma Chalifoux (Larkspur) 7-9 - Edmonton Public Schools". Edmonton Public School Board. Retrieved 23 June 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ a b Iseke J; Desmoulins L (2011). "Spiritual beginnings of indigenous women's activism: The life and work of the Honourable Thelma Chalifoux, white standing Buffalo". Canadian Woman Studies. 29 (1–2): 24–34. ISSN 0713-3235. OCLC 5540497073.
  12. ^ Adams, Howard and Xwi7xwa Collection. Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization. Rev. ed. Penticton, B.C: Theytus Books, 1999.

External links[edit]