Jeanette Clark Cassa
Jeanette Clark Cassa was born in Seven-Mile Wash to the late Florence Allen Clark and Peter Clark. Her first language was Apache. She was raised Apache, living in her great-grandparents wickiup. Her childhood was short, as she and her brother and sister were orphaned. When there was no place for them to stay, they enrolled themselves into boarding school.
She came back home after graduating in 1947. She and her late husband started a family, and went on relocation to San Jose and Dallas, working various jobs. When they came back home to stay, they kept working. She went about re-learning her Apache language with the patient help of others. She always worked.
Over the years, she held several positions, including serving on the Election Board for many years. Still her own Apache language always drew her in, and she learned to read and write in Apache, helped with many translations, and was certified as a bilingual educator.
Throughout her life she remained busy, for the past dozen years, she devoted herself to working directly with knowledgeable traditional elders, not only from her own reservation, but also White Mountain, Payson, and Camp Verde. She called these elders “the real professors,” and she diligently and faithfully recorded their knowledge of history, plants, animals, places, and all the elements of the Apache world. She compiled and translated this information for future generations to be used in a series of books for Tribal members. She was an outspoken advocate for the preservation of traditional Apache knowledge and wanted these values to guide the community.
Twelve years ago, she founded the Elders’ Cultural Advisory Council, and served as its Coordinator. This group oversaw her work, and even in her absence will continue to advise the Tribe and the Tribal Council on traditional cultural matters. This Elders’ Council has returned Apache sacred objects from museums, under the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), to be put back in the mountains according to traditional ways. This group has been so successful they have been nationally recognized for ground-breaking work. In 2000, the Elders’ Council was awarded High Honors by Harvard University’s Honoring Nations program.
Her husband Burnette, sister Josephine Russell, and brothers Christopher and Benedict Clark preceded her in death. She leaves behind her brother Martinez Clark; eight children: Velma Swift, Samuel Cassa, Darlene Singleterry, Carmen Stuart, Burnette Dale Cassa, Lorna Jean Jones, Janet Pahe, and Francelia Cassa; 33 grandchildren; and 24 great-grandchildren. She remained close to her tribe her whole life and to her Chiricahua relatives in Mescalero. She belonged to all of us. (Source: Women's Plaza of Honor)