Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, O.B.C., 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 peoples’ lives, families and cultures were shaped by his experience with the Canadian Indian Residential School system. Joseph 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. Nonetheless the reach of the government was long and eventually, 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. He shares his knowledge and wisdom in the Big House and as a Language Instructor with the University of British Columbia, an internationally recognized art curator and as co-author of “Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast”.
In 2003, Chief Robert Joseph 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, Special Advisor to both Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission , 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 Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, 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.
Chief Robert Joseph was appointed as an Officer of Canada in 2017. He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Indspire and appointed as an Officer to The Order of British Columbia. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award.
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