2020 Resources – Chief Dr. Robert Joseph: My Vision for Canada

Presentation to Pathways for Reconciliation Conference, June 2016

I strongly urge you to listen to this extraordinary presentation by one of the great leaders of this time in history. Let’s start with who Chief Dr. Robert Joseph is.

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph is hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation. He is currently the Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a member of the National 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.

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 (IFWP), Chief Joseph has sat with the leaders of many countries to learn from and share his understanding of faith, hope, healing and reconciliation.

In this wise 1-hour speech, Chief Dr. Joseph urges us to “Make reconciliation a core value as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a Nation”. He says, “My vision… includes a Nation with all of its people, governments and institutions embracing reconciliation as a core value.  This is not just a one-time discussion, checking off things that we ought to do and thinking it is done…When we embrace reconciliation as a core value we will recognize it for all time – generation to generation to generation. And if we don’t do that, we will always return to these places of marginalization and separation, back to hatred from love…This is not a project and one-time initiative. This is what you can do for the rest of your lives contributing to the wider society and the world, about how we should treat each other and how we should live together.”

He goes on to say that the process of reconciliation is a journey and that it will be imperfect as this is the nature of our world – but that this should not hold us back. He also speaks of the need to have many, many people and programs involved to “Create all the reconciliation we can,” wherever we can.

His story of being removed from his family and community at the age of 6, and being placed in the very harsh world of residential school – with the consequent life impacts and loss of dignity and connection to self and others – is very moving and inspiring. His journey through shame is illuminating and called me further into my commitment to live into reconciliation.

Chief Dr. Joseph calls us into reflection and action, “We have been drawn to this moment… because of our harmful attitudes and treatment of Aboriginal peoples now and in the past. It has become hard to bear. We know it is wrong. It bothers us that we have treated people in this way…So let’s take stock for a moment. I see a future ahead that is breathtaking…We stand in an unparalleled moment of hope and promise like never before…fuelled by a shift of national consciousness.” He speaks to the distressing data about child, youth, and family outcomes and urges us to practice in a way that fosters the re-building of family and community and “contribute to the greater idea of reconciliation” as a core value. At minute 39-40 you will be touched and inspired by his emotion and passion for children and youth.

Leadership Action

Chief Dr. Joseph reminds us that reconciliation is not a program or set of to-do tasks, but a core value and way of being in the world. Consider the following (perhaps in a team meeting):

  • What does reconciliation mean to you?
  • In what ways can the value of reconciliation be more intentional in your practice?
  • How might your team, agency, organization embrace the core value of reconciliation?
  • What are you doing now in the spirit of reconciliation?
  • Where could this go?
  • Who can you work with?
  • What might you learn? How might you become more knowledgeable, aware, understanding? How might you uncover the implicit/unconscious bias that holds you back from this reconciliation work?
  • What conversations and actions can you nurture?