One of the last speakers of the Kwakwaka’wakw language, Chief Robert Joseph taught at the First Nations Languages Program at the University of British Columbia. He was a Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation. He was awarded an Indspire Lifetime Achievement award in 2016, and now he’s written a book.
Namwayut is a Kwak’wala word that means, literally, “we are all one.” Explains Chief Robert Joseph, “It is an acknowledgment that everything is connected, all of humanity. Namwayut is an important concept because it creates sanctity about our interconnectedness as people.”
Namwayut – We Are All One: A Pathway to Reconciliation is about his journey from his childhood surviving residential school to his present-day leadership journey bringing individual hope, collective change, and global transformation.
The three corridor libraries are collaborating to host a three-week online book club focused on Namwayut on March 16, 23, and 30. Everyone is welcome to join.
This exploration will culminate in Chief Robert Joseph’s live appearance at Eagle Eye theatre in Squamish on Wednesday April 12, at 7pm.
The event will be live-streamed, thanks to the support of the Pemberton and District Public Library, the Whistler Public Library, the Whistler Writers Festival, Friends of the Whistler Library, the Whistler Pemberton Literacy Partnership, the Squamish Library, Squamish Arts and the Squamish Nation – a coming together designed to give you a chance to hear from Chief Robert Joseph, either in the flesh, in community at your local library, or in your own living room, whichever meets you best.
Taken from his family at six years of age, Robert Joseph suffered irreparable harm while attending St. Michaels Indian Residential School for eleven years. Beaten by teachers until he experienced severe hearing loss, his learning was forever impeded. At times he was so hungry that he ate maggot- infested porridge. The ultimate betrayal was his exposure to sexual abuse.
Graduation was a hollow accomplishment. Leaving the school with no sense of value, Robert’s early adulthood was scarred by alcohol and intergenerational trauma.
His journey of healing led to a First Nations Summit in Vancouver in 1994, where he expressed his rage and called for help for survivors. As a result of Robert coming forward, the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society was created in 2002, and he became its executive director, leading it for over a decade.
He was co-chair of a voluntary roundtable spearheaded by the United Church to advocate for a public inquiry into residential schools. He was instrumental in the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and parts of the Settlement Agreement. Robert remained active with the TRC until it made its final recommendations in 2015. He was one of four survivors who counselled Prime Minister Harper on the contents of the landmark apology by the federal government to all Residential School survivors.
In 2012, he founded Reconciliation Canada, which actively engages multi-faith and multi-cultural communities to explore the meaning of reconciliation. Through his efforts, the organization has united Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. He is a testament to the ever-present possibility of healing and the power of forgiveness.
Chief Robert Joseph offers his journey of reconciliation through the story of his life. And what an extraordinary, troubling, and uplifting life it is. I am struck by how prominent a role he played in the genesis of the healing movement, how he has led us by way of his loving example, and how he dwells less on the past and more on how hopeful we can be about our future.— Mike DeGagne, President and vice-chancellor of Yukon University and president and CEO of Indspire
You can join this free event in four ways: In-person at the Eagle Eye Theatre in Squamish, at a Livestream watch party at the Whistler Public Library, at a Livestream watch party at Pemberton & District Public Library, or Online from home. Reserve your ticket online.