Photo of the Week puts the spotlight, deservedly, on Mamaya7 Lois Joseph

Lois Joseph (R) 2015 Distinguished Service Award.jpg

Mamaya7 Lois Joseph presented with her Distinguished Service Award, with Kirstin Clausen, Chair of the BCMA Awards for Outstanding Achievement 2015 Selection Committment. Photo courtesy of BC Museums Association.

Last month, Lil’wat Nation’s Lois Joseph won a Distinguished Service Award from the BC Museums Association – an award given to people who have made a unique and outstanding contribution on a provincial or national basis to the museum, gallery, archives or heritage field over an extended period of time.

I asked Dr Sarah Bainbridge, now of the Audain Art Museum, but formerly a collaborator of Lois’ through their work with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, what inspired her to put Lois’ name forward for such recognition, and she was kind enough to share some of the nomination material.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Tireless, is Lois Joseph.

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Mamaya7’s bio from the 2014 Lil’wat Nation Annual Report. (click the image for more – it’s only the best annual report of any government/council in our region.)

As Dr Bainbridge said, “her dedication, enthusiasm and collaborative nature brought to life a variety of initiatives to celebrate, share and strengthen Lil’wat culture. Her work has positively impacted the lives of more than 500 youth within Mt Currie and helped to shape a positive understanding of Lil’wat7ul cultural practices with thousands of visitors from around the world.”


Performing with the Ull’us Dance Group, advising the SLCC on exhibits like Weaving Wisdom, Spirit Within, Sacred Markings, and the Lil’wat Fashion Show, and undertaking groundbreaking work with the Lil’wat7ul Culture Centre, which she manages, the work of this 12 term (!) Lil’wat Nation Councillor (who holds the Education portfolio) has also included developing First Voices, an Ucwalmicwts language project, immersion classes, the dictionary project, organising workshops in beading, carving, weaving and regalia, organising the annual Gathering of the Artists,  participating in the History of First People’s Arts Map, and increasing the profile of Lil’wat artists like Vera Edmonds and Jonathon Joe.

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It’s wonderful to see locals receive professional recognition within their fields, from their peers and industry.

But I recently read about a study into drug addiction and resilience, by UBC’s Michael Chandler, in the book The Biology of Desire, Why Addiction is Not a Disease,  by Marc Lewis, PhD, cognitive neuroscientist and former addict. Lewis argues that the disease model of addiction is an obstacle to healing.

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Addiction, he says, is actually an unintended consequence of the brain doing what it’s supposed to do – seek pleasure and relief – in a world that’s not cooperating.

Lewis is inspired by Chandler’s research.

The researchers canvassed native communities through much of western Canada. What struck them almost immediately was the astounding suicide rate among teenagers – 500-800 times the national average – infecting many of the communities. But not all of them. Some Native communities reported suicide rates of zero.

“When these communities were collapsed into larger groupings according to their membership in one of 29 tribal councils within the province, rates varied from a low of zero (true for 6 tribal councils) to a high of 633 suicides per 100000.”

What could possibly make a difference between places where teens had nothing to live for and those where teens had nothing to die for?

The researchers began talking to the kids. They collected stories. They asked teens to talk about their lives, about their goals, and about their futures.

What they found was that young people from the high suicide communities didn’t have stories to tell.

They were incapable of talking about their lives in any coherent, organized way. They had no clear sense of their past, their childhood, and the generations preceding them. And their attempts to outline possible futures were empty of form and meaning. Unlike the other children, they could not see their lives as narratives, as stories. Their attempts to answer questions about their life stories were punctuated by long pauses and unfinished sentences. They had nothing but the present, nothing to look forward to, so many of them took their own lives.

Chandler’s team soon discovered profound social reasons for the differences amongt these communities. Where the youths had stories to tell, continuity was already built into their sense of self by the structure of their society. Tribal councils remained active and effective organs of government. Elders were respected, and they took on the responsibility of teaching children who they were and where they had come from. The language and customs of the tribe had been preserved conscientiously over the decades. And so the youths saw themselves as art of a larger narrative, in which the stories of their lives fit and made sense.

And that is the bigger picture, I think, for this recognition of the work Lois Joseph has been undertaking all these years.

Museums get a bad rap, sometimes, as being houses full of relics, testaments to a long-gone past. That’s not what Lois Joseph is doing. She’s keeping culture alive and vibrant. And in doing so, she might just be saving lives.

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