150+ Canadians Day 49: Chief Robert Joseph

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph contributes to peace by working for reconciliation and healing between all Canadians. #Canada150

Chief Robert Joseph was hereditary chief of the Gwawa’enuxw First Nation.  He leads a life dedicated bridging the differences brought about by intolerance, lack of understanding, and racism at home and abroad. He is currently an Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a member of the Assembly of First Nations Elders Council, he was formerly the Executive Director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and is an Honourary Witness to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Chief Joseph’s insights into the destructive impact of racism were shaped by his experience with the Canadian Indian Residential School system. He began his life immersed in the rich cultural and family life of the Kwakwaka’wakw People. Unlike many other First Nations, his people were able to maintain much of their traditions due to the isolated and self-sustaining nature of their small village located on the central coast of British Columbia. As a young child of 6 years old, 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, Chief Joseph retained a deep understanding of his place in the world and his responsibility to his people.

As one of the last few speakers of the Kwakwaka’wakw language, Chief Joseph is an eloquent and inspiring Ceremonial House Speaker, sharing his knowledge and wisdom in the Big House and as a Language Instructor with the University of British Columbia. Internationally he is also recognized as an art curator, and is the  co-author of “Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast.”

In 2003, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from the University of British Columbia for his distinguished achievements in serving BC and Canada. Chief 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 (TRC) and Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada.

As Chairman of the Native American Leadership Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation and Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation with the Inter-religious and International Federation for World Peace (IFWP), Chief Joseph has sat with the leaders of South Africa, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and Washington, DC to learn from and share his understanding of faith, hope, healing and reconciliation.

“Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.” 

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