Chief Robert Joseph’s depth of understanding about faith, hope and healing has provided inspiring leadership in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission process.
Joseph will visit the West Kootenay today when he takes the stage at Nelson’s Capitol Theatre for a Selkirk College reconciliation speaker series event. Presented by Selkirk College’s indigenous services and the Mir Centre for Peace, the public is invited to hear Joseph speak on the topic of Healing a Nation Through Truth and Reconciliation.
“We are honoured to have Chief Robert Joseph come to our community for this special evening,” says Leah Lychowyd, Selkirk College’s indigenous services counsellor. “He is filled with incredible knowledge, has a passion for making a difference in the lives of others and is a compelling storyteller. It will be a great evening to gain perspective and understand why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is so important to all of us.”
Joseph is a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation who upholds a life dedicated to bridging the differences brought about by intolerance, lack of understanding, and racism at home and abroad.
His insights into the destructive impacts these forces can have on lives, families and cultures were shaped by his experience with the residential school system. Joseph began his life immersed in the rich cultural and family life of the Kwakwaka’wakw people in their village located on the central coast of BC.
When he was six, Joseph was removed from his community in order to begin an education designed to “kill the Indian in the child.” Despite the harsh lessons and abuse endured during his 11 years spent at St. Michael’s, Joseph retained a deep understanding of his place in the world and his responsibility to his people.
In 2016, Joseph told The Vancouver Sun his experience in the residential school system left him deeply scarred.
“Even in the depths of my despair, I always cared about others. I tried many, many ways throughout the years to be of service to others while I was sinking in and out of my alcohol addiction and anger and dysfunction,” Joseph said. “But one day, I had an epiphany that turned my whole life around. It allowed me to gain some dignity, some self-respect, some confidence and a vision of what a future could look like for me.”
As one of the last few speakers of the Kwakwaka’wakw language, Joseph is an eloquent and inspiring Ceremonial House Speaker. He shares his knowledge and wisdom in the Big House and as a language instructor with the University of British Columbia, as an internationally recognized art curator, and as co-author of Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast.
In 2003, he received an honorary doctorate of law from UBC for his distinguished achievements in serving BC and Canada.
Joseph is currently the ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, chairman of the National Assembly of First Nations Elder Council, and special advisor to both Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada.
As chair of the Native American Leadership Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation and Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation with the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, Joseph has sat with the leaders of South Africa, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and the United States.
“As all Canadians grapple with what Truth and Reconciliation means to them, it is valuable to have a speaker like Chief Joseph provide his insight and experience,” says Jennie Barron, chair of the Mir Centre for Peace. “Those who attend this evening are sure to leave with a better understanding when they hear the words of this wise indigenous leader.”
Tickets are available at capitoltheatre.ca or at the door. The talk runs from 7 to 9 p.m.