Char-Koosta News

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CSKT Elder Emerald Barker gave back to the people in the best way she could

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Bonser sisters: Rachel, Gretchen, Dorothy, Emerald, Ethel, Theresa and Mildred, pictured at their mother Cecilia’s wake in 1928. (Courtesy photo) Bonser sisters: Rachel, Gretchen, Dorothy, Emerald, Ethel, Theresa and Mildred, pictured at their mother Cecilia’s wake in 1928. (Courtesy photo)

POLSON — Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member Emerald Lucy Bonser Barker, 98, passed away on May 31, in her birthplace and hometown of Polson. Emerald’s daughter Mary Goodby said the family is planning celebration of life for Emerald at the North Crow Club House, where Emerald spent much of her time involved with the North Crow Women’s Club.

Her celebration of life is an ideal gesture to the life she lived in the Mission Valley that she treasured and gave back to.

“She was so proud of being a tribal member and there is no other place to have a celebration for her than on her home Reservation,” Mary said.

According to Mary, one of Emerald’s hobbies was to bid at estate auctions around the valley with her husband Keith, and buy a pallet of things then find the original owners or families and give back the items.

Emerald and Keith Barker pictured with granddaughter Sara Goodby in 1968. (Courtesy photo) Emerald and Keith Barker pictured with granddaughter Sara Goodby in 1968. (Courtesy photo)

“It was always her intent to return things to ‘rightful owners,’” Mary said. “She would look and search until she found the families.”

Her husband Keith was on the same page with her and took a step further in his wife’s mission. He would refurbish or polish up the items before they would go back to the families, Mary said.

Returning lost items to families isn’t all that Emerald had done for people and at times, the bereaved.

In the 1990s, Emerald fought to restore the historical cemetery in Polson that belonged to the Catholic Diocese of Helena and return it to the tribal people of the Flathead Reservation. Because many who were laid to rest there are tribal members, Emerald believed it should be returned to the rightful owners.

“She was concerned about (the cemetery) because it wasn’t being taken care of,” Mary said, adding that her mother looked at all the names and found they were tribal ancestors. “She found it wasn’t maintained and made it (transfer) happen.”

Emerald Bonser Barker (Courtesy photo) Emerald Bonser Barker (Courtesy photo)

In 1998, the cemetery was handed over with a new name: the Beauvais-Decker Cemetery.

Throughout her long life, Emerald held a deep connection to the Flathead Reservation and its tribal people.

Born in 1919, Emerald Lucy Bonser Barker was the third daughter of seven who was raised by her Rosebud Sioux dad, Harry Bonser after her mother, Cecilia Ducharme Bonser passed away at a young age in 1928.

Her parents met at Carlisle Indian School and instead of going home, Harry came to the Flathead Reservation, married Cecilia and had seven daughters. 

With a sudden unexpected illness taking Emerald’s mother, she and her siblings were split between Harry and Cecilia’s families. Harry then went into the Marine Corps during World War II.

Emerald Bonser Barker is pictured at her graduation from Sacramento City College in 1956. (Courtesy photo) Emerald Bonser Barker is pictured at her graduation from Sacramento City College in 1956. (Courtesy photo)

After attending school at the Ursuline Boarding School in St. Ignatius, she journeyed to North Dakota and graduated from Bismarck High School.

After a short marriage to Lyle Lewis French in 1939 and giving birth to Mary Cecilia, Emerald went to live with her dad, Harry in Sacramento, California in 1943. He was discharged from the Marine Corps and helped his daughter raise her daughter. A single, hard working mother, she eventually met the love of her life, Keith Barker.

Keith brought her home in 1969 where they bought their “honey moon” house in the North Crow area.

Longing for her Montana home and her tribal people Emerald always said she wanted to go home and “Do something for her people.”

Emerald pictured with her four-generation lineage taken last summer: Sara Goodby Nordio, granddaughter; Sofia Nordio, great-granddaughter and daughter Mary Goodby. (Courtesy photo) Emerald pictured with her four-generation lineage taken last summer: Sara Goodby Nordio, granddaughter; Sofia Nordio, great-granddaughter and daughter Mary Goodby. (Courtesy photo)

Emerald is buried at the Beauvais Decker Cemetery in a family plot with husband, Keith; her mother Cecilia; and two of her sisters Dorothy and Gretchen.

She is survived by her daughter Mary Cecilia (French) Goodby; granddaughter Sara Louise (Goodby) Nordio; great granddaughter Sofia Grace Nordio and one of six sisters, Mildred Bonswer Gerber.

The memorial at North Crow House on July 15 will be a private celebration of family and friends.

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