Ep.8 Chief Joseph – Compassion and Reconciliation: Faith, Hope and Healing

Tune in to hear Chief Roberts’ wisdom around how we can move towards reconciliation with Indigenous people in a compassionate way. From his experiences in residential school and his struggles with addictions, to his amazing work offering leadership to create a nation where love and compassion for all, including nature, are values embodied by all.

Gissele: [00:00:00] I just want to start by acknowledging that the land on which we live and work is indigenous territory. The city of Brantford, where I am currently, surrounds the lands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee and the Neutral.

Chief Joseph: [00:00:11] Yah.

Gissele: [00:00:12] This land acknowledgement is not enough. It does not support indigenous communities in struggles in real ways. As individuals who benefit from the occupation of this land, we have responsibility to continuously frame our work through a decolonial lens and to constantly educate ourselves and to build reciprocal relationships that are rooted in the values and histories of indigenous communities.

We’re all treaty members and must strive to act in solidarity with indigenous folks and center their voices and this podcast is an attempt to do so.

So welcome to the Love and Compassion Podcast, which is Gissele Taraba. It is my pleasure to introduce my guest, who, at the tender age of six, was taken from his community in placed in a residential school where he, was for 11 years. Despite his experiences of abuse, he never lost the desire for compassion and to care for others.

In 2003, he received, an honorary doctorate of law from UBC. for his distinguished achievements serving in BC and in Canada. In 2012 he was presented with the diamond Jubilee metal by the right honorable David Johnson, Governor General of Canada, and obviously throughout his life, he’s received many awards.

Joseph is currently the ambassador for reconciliation, Canada, and the Indian residential school survival society. And as ambassador for peace and reconciliation with the inter-religious and international Federation for world peace, he has sat with leaders of South Africa, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and the United States.

He’s also co author of “Down from the Shimmering Skies Mask of the North West Coast”. Please welcome, doctor chief, Robert Joseph. Welcome.

Chief Joseph: [00:01:56] Hello everybody.

Gissele: [00:02:00] So you come from and I’m not gonna pronounce it, right. Can you say, is it K’wa?

Chief Joseph: [00:02:05]

Gwawaenuk, yeah, that’s the tribe.

Gissele: [00:02:11] Oh, Ok.

Chief Joseph: [00:02:13] Yes.

Gissele: [00:02:13] What does it mean?

Chief Joseph: [00:02:14] They belong to the larger group of the Kwakwaka’wakw, a tribe of nations that speak Kwakwala. So we call ourselves Kwakwaka’wakw. The Gwawaenuk are a member of that larger group and Gwawaenuk means to be situated in Northern lands.

So our, our little tribe is in the Northern borders of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe. So we are Gwawaenuk

Gissele: [00:02:42] Gwawaenuk?

Oh Ok.. And so at the age of six, you among other children were taking to St. Michael’s I was wondering if you could share a little bit about those experiences that the children endured and yourself.

Chief Joseph: [00:02:55] Yeah, I, I I’ve done that a few times. I was, six years old and I was growing up in this little village called Gwayasdums. It signifies the relationship of the village to the territory as well.

And that’s all I had known and seen, I’m not really seeing any, or met any newcomers to the land? We spoke Kwakwaka. That was the only language I knew and I hardly been outside of that dinner plate, geography of that little village and lo and behold, I ended up at st. Michael’s Indian residential school in Alert Bay.

And it didn’t take long for me to recognize just how, abusive of that environment was, and immediately felt devalued, dehumanized, and experiencing extreme sense of loneliness as a little six year old and that’s really quite destructive to be experiencing that. So I remember going to my first class and I saw this elderly lady, she had completely white hair and she spoke this language.

I didn’t know. Didn’t understand, but she looked, she looked mean. That must have been her way.

Gissele: [00:04:25] It must’ve been scary.

Chief Joseph: [00:04:26] Yeah. Yeah, it was scary. And so when I entered the, the classroom along with the other little boys and girls that were in that same grade, it didn’t take long for us to recognize that we had better be following the instructions because all day long, whenever they’re seemed, whenever the deemed, there was a contravention of rules or violation of rules, there were consequences.

Denigration is a really destroying, heartbreaking destroying sort of process that we faced. Daily. We’re little savages. Why were even there and wasting space for them? And, just, and that went on every day, for the whole school year and consequences were, being dragged to a corner pulled by the ear or by the hair. Strapped by ruler, leather, pointers, or made to stand for hours on end in corners.

Over time. That really, really, I, I think about it and I wonder how I survived that and I understand now why I lived out the life I did after I left that place. It was because of all of that constant, constant. Dehumanization when I was a teen I was still in that place. And I caught onto the habit of liking cigarettes.

Gissele: [00:05:57] Mm-hmm.

Chief Joseph: [00:05:58] And so I got caught and the principal quarantined me for a whole weekend, nobody to talk to isolated in a room, just with a cop in there and have it just bread and water. And I couldn’t understand why it was so harsh. Eventually I got out of there and got caught again. And. This was even worse. He convened all of the boys side in that school.

And I had to strip naked in front of all the boys kneel over a chair and he leaned to me with a leather strap and that was. The strap itself didn’t really hurt, but it sure hurt my feelings. I was so embarrassed

and that school, the food was awful. The first, breakfast I had there, I went down and I sat down and the table captain dished out, the porridge, as it turned out, it was putrid. And I looked at it and there were all these. Worms or bugs or whatever they were. And they were dancing on top of the porridge.

And I looked around and I could see the other little boys not paying too much attention or eating. And I was so hungry so that I simply. Push them aside in my bowl and started to eat from the center of the bowl. And so putrid, but all of the food was malnutrition and bland and I think loneliness was one of the worst things that little boys suffered.

Eventually I grew to be a young man there of course, and the abuse, took different forms, and became, more violent and less public. I was sexually abused in that school. And when you leave that place, you, you, you bring that with you forever to wherever you go. I remember standing in the top of the steps of that, the entrance to that school.

And I had gone out. The night before and partied like any young person that graduates, they party, but I got home, I got to got back to school. And the next morning when I was leaving, I stood on the top of those steps and I realized I had nowhere to go. I had no sense of value, no purpose. That was just a dark place to be when you should be dreaming and aspiring to be everything that you want to be.

And so there was no, there was no revealing grace about residential schools, they prohibited you from natural family, caring and nurturing, prohibited you from speaking your language, convinced you that to be savage was heathen and that everything associated culturally with that aspect of it was bad. And so when I really did leave there, I, I didn’t.

I couldn’t figure out what I would do with the rest of my life.

Gissele: [00:09:26] Mm-hmm. You know, it’s so hard to imagine that somebody could look at a child and dehumanize them like it’s it’s, I still, I don’t really, really understand what must be going on for those people that they could justify it in their heads, that you could look at a child and not see joy and love and laughter and.


Chief Joseph: [00:09:52] I, yeah, I never, I still can’t fathom it. Sometimes. I, I say to himself, what were they thinking? How, how could we have come or gone that far? And even over the years, how come nobody raised their hands and said, we, we shouldn’t be doing that to these children or to anybody for that matter, right? And I was like, Ooh, I was really perplexing and confounded.

I was driven out of that school totally traumatized and dysfunctional and fell into addiction, exhibited rage and anger. More often than not in just not feeling good about myself for anything.

Gissele: [00:10:42] Well, you had been dehumanized, right? Like you had been treated like no, somebody, not of value. Yeah, I, yeah, it’s baffling to me that, that somebody would, I mean, how hard and must your heart have been in order for you to do that and justified in your head?

In terms of learning about compassion, I know that compassion requires awareness and I was wondering, What you thought, how do you thought that the lack of education on the experiences of indigenous people, the silencing of your history impacted people’s ability to feel compassion for our indigenous brothers and sisters?

Chief Joseph: [00:11:21] I think it was a real huge, perspective that should have been held about why we would have these kinds of things happen and have the kind of relationships built that were about, in my work with, survivors and I talked to hundreds, hundreds of survivors. We sat in circles everywhere and before I get to the question, one of the things that I learned with all the survivors is all they really wanted to do was tell their stories.

And then we talked about, well, where can we tell our stories? And they said. Well, it should be safe places. They should be sacred. So when we sat in circles were created sanctity by values, ritual, and ceremony, or maybe it was just ordinary prayer from an individual perspective. And we began to discover among ourselves that first of all, There were so many of us, 150,000 over all of that time, we suffered all of these things and never talked about it.

Never thought there was a way beyond it or around it. And so when, when I began to work in this field, I recognized because of the experience of those survivors, that there was absolutely no connect. It was total disconnect. Ordinary Canadians, newcomers, whatever we call them. Didn’t know our shared history didn’t know what happened to indigenous people didn’t know that there were all kinds of violations of human rights period.

And when, when we, Oh, the other thing I wanted to mention too, is that the truth and reconciliation commission idea was conceived by the survivors in those circles in which, we talked. Where they wanted to safe places, spiritual places, talk about their experience, reach out and talk to other Canadians and, achieve, mainly dialogue and transform relationships.

That’s all those were, founded, in the ideas of survivors in really general terms. And it led to the truth and reconciliation commission. I, I was in Ottawa when the final report was presented. There must have been five, six thousand people in that room and, the chairman, commissioner Sinclair said, and Canada, you have, committed genocide against indigenous people.

The whole room erupted in euphoria. We hooted, we clapped, we stamped our feet and it was so happy and that’s the second time I’d felt that way. The other time had been in the apology and the house of commons by the former prime minister. And it was the same. We hooted and hollered and wanted to celebrate. And I realized that it was because for the first time in all of our adult lives, seven, eight generations later.

Someone somewhere heard us and acknowledged our experience. It’s really important. And that’s why dialogue has to be the central element of reconciliation. If we don’t have dialogue, we never have, the deeper understanding and the trans, transformation we need. So that’s why we need to talk to each other.

And I know we’re not following the questions right now, but I, I don’t want to forget this. I think the strongest lesson we would learn today with our fellow Zoomers. I don’t know what the word is for this.

Gissele: [00:15:19] Zoomers is great.

Chief Joseph: [00:15:21] Ah, Zoomer, to know that reconciliation starts with self. It’s just like the whole idea of love, and when we talk about love and compassion and collective sense, it can’t get anywhere unless we’re embracing it and acting it out in our own lives.

And I think that’s the key. You know, we’re in this time now with COVID and we’re, being, I don’t know, forced is the right way being forced to consider. So many things that we didn’t normally think about our relationships with each other, with our family, unity members and some of the values that we’ve held for so long that have been in contradiction with each other, and we need to reconcile those, how we live together, how we develop together.

Gissele: [00:16:21] I think COVID has shown the interdependence between all beings, and how we need each other to survive. It shows that we’re no different from one another and the needs of the wealthy are the same as the needs of the person who isn’t. Right. And I think those are key things. And the other thing you mentioned was, we’re all responsible for reconciliation.

I may not have directly been involved in racism and I’m an immigrant. I wasn’t certainly taught about indigenous history until I was way, way older and started hearing in the newspapers and heard about the stories. And, but it’s, it is my job to help create a better world for all of us, myself included.

And, you know, what happened to you? Wasn’t your fault and you didn’t deserve it. And I think our consciousness has to be one where we treat each other like we would treat ourselves in, like we would treat the most precious person in our lives. And until we do that for each other, I don’t think the world is going to change.

Chief Joseph: [00:17:20] and one of the things I I’m really excited about, I had a chance to talk to another person about it the other day is that when I was a young man and I started out my first job ever after leaving home was to work with the, the huge tribe in British Columbia. And I didn’t know anything from anything.

All I’d ever done was fish and log, but they gave me this title, Community Development worker. I went into the community and I sat in my first meeting with the chief and band council. And one day we were sitting around on the council table and chief chief said, what has happened to us? I don’t understand at one time, we were all self sufficient.

We had big gardens. Everybody grew their own food and we didn’t depend on them or rely on anybody else what has happened to us. And I have never forgotten that question, because from there, I learned that out of that question, that what I needed to do, whatever I do with my life, for the rest of my life, I’m going to be working with people.

I had made up my mind to do that. My job would be to empower people, to be responsible for themselves. And of course, by extension others and that nothing meaningful would really change, unless we empower those people who we think we were helping or wanting to help. Right. And it’s so important. So it always begins with self and it’s the same, the same is true for reconciliation.

I think that all of us individually need to adopt reconciliation as a core value and then try to find ways in which to live that out everyday. In simple terms and complex terms, whatever, but we begin to give meaning to it by action, you know?

Gissele: [00:19:22] Oh yeah, absolutely. And I think in one of the quotes that you had given in the media, you had said that true reconciliation is really about relationships.

It’s about how you and I can co-exist together and still afford each other, the respect and dignity. And so. I think that’s where it begins and starts. If you’re saying it starts with us, we have to look at ourselves and say, where am I othering others? Where am I not being not loving to myself and others?

Because I think that’s for so long, we’ve actually praise people who are the conquerors and the winners and so on. And so I, I do think, and I was going to ask about, what you thought about whether you’re starting to see a shift around us. Understanding that that values like compassion and values, like inclusivity and values, like love are really the things that are going to save us.

Chief Joseph: [00:20:18] I’ve had the privilege of traveling this country quite a bit. And once in awhile out of country to some other country and I’ve talked to a group groups of people everywhere and we face the human, the same human struggles everywhere.

Racism is so pervasive and so impactful, powerful, negatively impact that wherever we are, we’re going to be living with the sense of injustice, non-inclusivity, all of those things that divide us. Right. And. As a result as a result of my having traveled to talk to a lot of people, I, I think I’ve observed, moment, an aha moment.

I don’t know if it’s pivotal, it’s probably, where. In those moments, humanity, people around us, have thought a little differently about who we are and what we mean to, to each other. And so the truth and reconciliation commission came out. That was an important instrument, really important. And COVID, now just by accident, more than anything is causing another moment in human history for us to really think about how we need each other.

We, all of us have to be together, pulling together, holding each other up to defeat this thing called COVID-19. And, and so the answer to the question, I think there’s been a shift. We of course have a long way to go. I think that’s, normal. There’s. I, I long. Gave up on the notion that perfection is the goal.

We just do the best we can right here this moment. And if it gets anywhere to perfection, we’re blessed. Keep trying right. And keep digging and being resilient, being creative, being bold, caring and loving. I think I talk a lot about love in all the places. I get a chance to speak and I speak from a place where, when I couldn’t love myself, I was so broken.

And the shame that. I, I can’t see myself living without the idea and holding on to it that I’ve learned to love myself. And we, we gotta do that everywhere. Everybody. We all need to learn to love ourselves.

Gissele: [00:23:14] It can feel really hard though. Right?

Chief Joseph: [00:23:17] Yeah.

Gissele: [00:23:18] Because of all the messages that you you’ve been, you were taught.

I mean, the whole purpose was for them to completely destroy the indigenous way. And so it can be really hard. What helped you move forward on loving yourself?

Chief Joseph: [00:23:34] I had, in native terms you say vision, I had a vision and. Others call it an epiphany in different languages.

Gissele: [00:23:44] I like the word vision.

Chief Joseph: [00:23:45] Yeah. Yeah. I like vision too and I had a vision, I, as a result of all of the experience in that residential school and me coming out of it.

First of all, I, I recognized how lonely and alone I felt in at school. And when I grew into adulthood left at school, I thought, my gosh, if I get married and I have children, I’ll never be lonely again. So I got married and had children

Gissele: [00:24:18] if it was only that easy.

Chief Joseph: [00:24:22] And, and I worked really hard. I wanted it to be normal. Really, I wanted to be normal. I wanted people’s respect and recognition and acknowledgment. I wanted people to know that I belonged to the human race. So when I left the school, I had really good jobs, too. I had really good jobs, but I kept being haunted by all these experiences that hadn’t been at school.

And so even when I had the family and I had my nice home in Campbell River and, good job.

I would tend to drink, start drinking and sort of lose them. So, one day I did that, I went and drank, and I got a home and my family was gone and I thought, Oh my God, what’s happened here. I used to lay awake when I’d get home at night. And and try to listen to the pitter patter of my kids feet, or my wife walking up the walkway, coming back home and everything would be right.

And it never happened. Then I kept descending into alcoholism. It had gotten so bad. I eventually didn’t work . The electricity and my big house was cut off. I met a friend downtown one day and he said, Bobby, Joe, everybody calls me, Bobby, Joe. I don’t like what you’re doing to yourself. He said, what did you come fishing with me?

Get out of town for awhile. And I knew it was in really a big trouble. And I said, yeah, I’ll come, I’ll come. He said, you know where the boat is tied up, go down there, asleep at us and we’ll go first thing in the morning. So I don’t know how I got there, but. Early the next morning, I woke up and realized I’m on the same boat and the crew members are all still asleep and I look around and then I suddenly remembered what, who and what I’d become.

And you could smell the booze using on your pores. And I was so ashamed. I got out of the bunk and I snuck through the engine room to the Galley, to the back of the stern of the boat and I, threw myself on a deck and I said, God helped me. So it was really intended to be at prayer. I had been angry so long, but as soon as I said that I could see through my tears and I saw Johnson Straight.

We were anchored out on one side of the channel. I saw Johnson Straight, coral blue, brilliant energy. Magnificent. I’d never seen Johnson Straight look like that. And I elevated my gaze and it was Vancouver Island on the other side. And I saw the forest. So lush and green lightning bolts going through it. And soon I was sort of looking up way up. And then I saw, I saw the whole universe and I heard this voice say to me,

It said, I love you. And you’re a part of all of this. And it was from that moment, that my life began to change, that somehow I was able to rediscover that I could love myself. Creator could love me. Yeah,

Gissele: [00:28:07] The whole universe loves you!

Chief Joseph: [00:28:10] And you’re part of it. Right. So how awesome is that? So that’s carried me. From that time, it’s a while back now carried me through all of that and brought me to places and to people and to work that I never dreamed I’d ever be involved in. So at peace, I’m going to be 81 years old soon.

Gissele: [00:28:35] Oh, you don’t look, 80.

Chief Joseph: [00:28:40] I’m at peace. I’m at peace with myself. All I’m required, to do is my best. And because of my experience, I dedicated myself to service a long time ago. I don’t think I could do anything else.

Gissele: [00:29:00] Yeah. And you’re doing a lot for reconciliation Canada. Can you share some of the stuff you’re doing?

Chief Joseph: [00:29:05] Aye. Aye, aye. Lately. Well, COVID restricts everybody, of course. But leading up to COVID as well. My mobility, became challenged and the last five years I’ve had a heart attack and colon cancer. So I’m not as strong as I used to be right.

Gissele: [00:29:25] Well you beat them, you’re still here.

Chief Joseph: [00:29:28] But I can’t crisscross the country. Like I used to, when I did, I, I was, spokesperson for reconciliation Canada actually, before that, I worked with, there were so many parties in Canada that worked hard to try to respond to the legacy of residential schools. And that brought about the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission.

So once that was set I knew that somehow, communities have to engage in that process to actualize processes of reconciliation. So it was while I was just recovering from my cancer, colon cancer, I called my daughter. I phoned her and I said, I want you to come and see me. I’m still in the hospital. And I said, I really, I there’s one thing I want to see.

I want you to, create a big walk for reconciliation, Vancouver. If for whatever reason, I’m not there. I want you to make sure you do that. She said, okay, dad, I’ll do it. I’ll create a walk. We had 70,000 people turned out for that. Incredible. And I felt it was such a strong symbolism that might excite other Canadians.

Right. And I’ve never felt otherwise. I think Canadians by large, we never here for most of them, are good people. They care and are compassionate. However, they have their own windows in which they live through. And we’re now rattling the windows they look through to be more inclusive, right.

Yeah. And, and many of them, by the way, when the commission released this report, shortly after, they did a national poll, 7 out of 10 Canadians wanted to reconcile. In spite of the characterization of genocide, they said we want to reconcile. And then there was a subsequent national poll and it said more than 8 out of 10, 84% to be exact.

So I knew that there was a really big, huge will across Canada to at least think about. Reconciliation. I’m not sure at the moment how far we’ve come, but I know it’s further than we’ve ever been.

Gissele: [00:32:09] Yeah, absolutely. I think people are waking up to the, like the thing you mentioned about the interdependence of all things.

I can’t be well, unless you’re well. And you can’t be well unless I’m well. Our wellness depends on each other. I think that people are starting to wake up to the fact and COVID has helped. And all of these other instances that are happening has helped, but I think people are starting to realize that that they it’s, it’s not just about good wishing.

It’s not just about saying, Oh, I feel bad about your story. It’s about saying, okay. I have to commit to making this world better in whichever way that I can, right.

Chief Joseph: [00:32:46] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I believe that incrementally we’re taking steps to get there and I’m like you, I think COVID-19 is going to impact a lot of the way we think about each other after if there’s an after even. Right. But how we move forward from this point.

Gissele: [00:33:12] For sure. Oh, sorry. I was gonna mention that, this, despite the move towards reconciliation, the government of Canada is still kind of hesitant about moving forward on some of the land claims and on some of the monetary, resolutions, especially with Cindy Blackstock around the, indigenous child welfare agencies, or I think they call them the different indigenous well-being societies. I was just wondering what your thoughts on that, on why the government still they’re willing to spend the same amount of money to fight Cindy, but they’re not willing to move forward on some of their promises.

Chief Joseph: [00:33:50] Yeah. It’s kind of tragic, but they’re dragging their heels. I think, I think the human rights tribunal process and decision. Was real truthful and, indigenous children need the help right now and not be subject to political wrangling between the adults. And so I think that that has to, that has to be resolved. With respect to land rights and title with both of those issues. I think what we’re dealing with is the systemic racism that is so entrenched that even if the politicians express something different a little bit, that will be layers and layers of bureaucracy and institutional influence.

Once that hold us back as well. Yeah. I think it’s just a process that unfortunately takes long to change. I don’t want to dismiss some of the efforts that have been taken. There are somethings that have been happening that. Ordinarily or normally wouldn’t have happened. Had we not had a discussion, a real discussion and dialogue and transformation happening, right.

Gissele: [00:35:30] Absolutely.

Chief Joseph: [00:35:33] But I think what’s really important is that we build on every step that we take. And not,

Gissele: [00:35:42] Absolutely.

Chief Joseph: [00:35:43] Not feel defeated because we didn’t get the nine yards or whatever it is.

Gissele: [00:35:48] And that was the perfectionism you were talking about. Like, you know, understanding that it’s also a journey for those who are responsible. There’s a great deal of shame in our history and the Canadian history. And I think people are really grappling with, because Canada does have this history of this, you know, Great nation who in the eyes of other nations is seen as the compassionate or kind, you know? And so people carry this personas and then to actually see that genocide happened here right here, I think it’s really, it contradicts their own identity. And so Canada is having a little bit of an identity crisis currently in saying, you know, we’re not just these nice, nice people that are too polite to say there’s a real underbelly of us that shows our shadows.

And, it’s an ugly mirror to put up. And I think to some extent there might be some I’d rather pay lawyers to make you wrong than to admit to myself that I could have been. I could have been someone that committed to at genocide or was involved in or was complacent within it. That’s really hard to digest.

Chief Joseph: [00:37:00] Yeah. I colonization in, in the first instance is driven by really wrongful assumptions, racist assumptions, and it obviously takes a little while to begin to change that. To be engaging with each other or whether we like each other or not. I think we still can engage with each other in dialogue that creates that new perspective among us. That changes the way we behave. I, I’m not sure if we’ll ever, I get past racism completely, I really don’t.

Gissele: [00:37:45] I’d like to believe we can. And the reason being is because I think, you know, I, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this, you know, like people that need to colonize others that need to do power over. To take more, no, to come from other lands, to take the lands from other people that comes from a place of lack. When you’re truly empowered.

Like you say, when you truly understand that you are whole and complete, that you’re enough, you don’t need to do that to other people. You don’t need to put power over and destroy and decimate another, another person. And so to me, anti-racism work is the work of loving ourselves and being more compassionate to ourselves and others, because then we understand like you yourself said.

We are the whole universe within us and the universe loves every single one of us. I don’t need to take from you. I don’t need to take advantage of you. I don’t need to dehumanize you because I see myself in you. I see. We’re all part of the ocean, right.

Chief Joseph: [00:38:42] Yeah. You’re able to. Even share some of yourself, because you’re enough.

Gissele: [00:38:51] Yeah, that’s right.

Chief Joseph: [00:38:53] Okay. And somehow we have to find the Achilles heel of people who hate or are racist not to overcome them, but to, we can support them in transformation. To change. That’s not, we’re not asking them in the first instance to reject themselves because that’s what they are and have been. But. We all make mistakes. We all have shortcomings and we can we can all evolve and change and transform, and it sort of comes back again to that central theme of real dialogue, creating real understanding that it’s that transformation, right? Yeah. So.

Gissele: [00:39:49] Wow. I know that, during these really challenging times, I know that the death of George Floyd, and all of the deaths within the black community. And I know that the indigenous community has a long history with police. And right now there’s this movement to defund police.

And even though I, I love the concept in general, in terms of funding, preventative services and redirecting those funds. I worry that it’s not going to work because our consciousness is right now where we are still afraid of one another. And would you need those kinds of power over systems? So I was wondering what your thoughts were on defunding police.

Chief Joseph: [00:40:27] I think you’re really, pinpointed, the most important element of a starting place and it should be where we’re still afraid of each other. We don’t trust each other. So I think the first step in all of this would be to have an educational process. That’s funded or supported we’re we actually engage with each other with police forces, other agencies, and have a real dialogue about why we’re afraid of each other.

And then when we begin to understand what it is that we need to address them, then defunding becomes a larger effort at redirecting resources to specific administrators that change behavior perspective attitude, you know, but it’s almost like the whole process of reconciliation here in Canada.

First of all, there has to be and has been some dialogue. And now, now we’re gaining the attention of Canadians or between us all and having more dialogue and what really becomes important then. And I realize. After watching all of the process in Canada, that the most important reconciliation starts with self, right, man, you have to be reconciled, but it’d be your core value.

And you better reconcile with your family, maybe your spouse or your sibling, or a mum or dad, but none of us live without trauma. So we better find ways to reconcile and build that out right. I hope it’s true with, Black lives matter, police that the situation in Canada, we start with self and we, we started our dinner tables with our families, and then maybe we go to town halls, but it’s about educating each other about pitfalls at downfalls, the harm, the hope, the dream, whatever it is that we pieced together from our.

Past that hasn’t been ideal. And, you know, I can’t, I realize with COVID and when I, my, I did a few podcasts. You’re sending general message works with you. Don’t worry about politicians. You just wear your face cover. Wash your hands. We’re doing that part. And it’s probably the most powerful part of all of the process, but you have the power to do it right.

Empowering ourselves as individuals. That’s so important and then growing it up or we can, and with the police defunding, I think that’s, that’s how I see it. It’s not taking away funding from the police. It might be to reallocate some of it, or maybe you find new funding that,

Gissele: [00:43:47] Or eventually we develop our consciousness so much that we don’t really need these kinds of systems of control in those individuals can do other things that are more about supporting the community.

Yeah. So, and it’s so true. What you said that that is the starting point. It begins with education and it begins with us in dialogue. You know, as, as you were talking, I was thinking, how could we bring police together with these groups, it up to start the dialogue. And I thought said to myself, well, there’s going to be a lot of shame and fear.

And how do we get past the fear and the shame and all those pieces. How do you get, how can we, we make that one degree shift forward in being able to make it so that we can and have that dialogue.

Chief Joseph: [00:44:32] I think once we, learn a lasting, Impact of damaging processes and we recognize that nothing will get better unless we find a place where we can all agree that maybe we should work together at getting beyond it, with respect to the police RCMP, especially I think, but every police force, we would go to the detachments where they are wherever their offices are.

However, we reach out to them and say, can we have a process hearing? And some of them do it already. And engage with each other, find ways to engage beyond just looking at the public relations part of it, but how do we get that understanding again? Right.

Gissele: [00:45:26] Yeah. How do we come to a mutual understanding?

Chief Joseph: [00:45:28] Usually what happens with the police force is at the highest level, commander says, Oh, we’ve got to do something. And then the higher, high paid consultancy firm or individuals to come and do the workshop and dust their hands and say, we’ve done. Where we live and work and play, how do we bring the process down to that level?

Gissele: [00:45:52] I agree. I agree. It’s interesting when I’ve watched and I haven’t really watched all of the videos. It’s just, it’s too heartbreaking. What I see is fear. There is an enormous amount of fear in those individuals. And when you’re in a place of fear, you’re not listening. You’re not open to engagement. You’re only just in survival mode.

Chief Joseph: [00:46:11] Yeah, yeah that’s good.

Gissele: [00:46:11] Oh, it is. Yeah.

Chief Joseph: [00:46:14] It’s survival mode reaction. And so it becomes precarious and sometimes very dangerous, like, like what happened with,

Gissele: [00:46:24] yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, there’s something to be said about the education piece, the training piece, the support piece and the shifting out of that fear consciousness.

Which so negatively impacts us.

Chief Joseph: [00:46:37] Yeah. And with the indigenous community is so hard because. I don’t know if there’s any agency, including the policing departments that don’t have a real strong bias already, even before we even get into the communities. Right. And presume things. And there’s no ground fertile enough to try to change perceptions of each other, you know, where.

I think it just takes a dialogue again.

Gissele: [00:47:13] Yeah, for sure.

You’re quoted as saying we are one. That we’re all united we are all part of this larger universe.

I was just wondering, how that has helped you kind of have forgiveness because, you know, if you, if we are one, then I am one with my oppressor.

I’m one with the one who hurt me. And, so how can that help us with some, with the path towards forgiveness, which can be really, really challenging,

Chief Joseph: [00:47:40] I think, when, just for lack of a better word, the oppressor begins to understand the Idea that we are one that they’re going to begin to recognize that.

No one can afford to harm the other. And so gentler relationships begin to unfold, I think. And just out of. First of all, let me say in Kwakwaka’wakw culture, the notion and it’s like true with all the other indigenous cultures, of course, but I’m just talking about mine, of all the things I ever heard, my granny or some of the chiefs of my community.

Talk about where they idea that Nam ma. We are just one. Even with the animals. So when I look at our culture and I see all of the ceremony and a tradition that we’ve developed to honor other components of creation. We better than we are really one with them bears and the fish. When I used to watch my Grammy feed the ancestors and we had a little pot, belly stove, she put food in there, that we still were one with the spirit world we begin to get.

But what happens to one happens for the other, like you said, it could be human beings could be animals, or it could be between us human beings and animals, or just being respectful of any element of our reality. And we need to embrace the idea that we’re interconnected. So, so interconnected and that if we are, then it should be balanced and. Be in harmony and peace, right?

Gissele: [00:49:42] Yeah. thank you for mentioning that cause I was gonna say, you know, I’ve tried to learn a little bit about indigenous culture. And one of the things I learned about it was about the, the, the circle of well being that includes, physical, mental, spiritual, and social is that right?

Chief Joseph: [00:49:58] Emotional.

Gissele: [00:49:59] Emotional. Thank you. And so when I was looking at my life, I had realized that I had focused all my attention on the cognitive and on the physical and not enough on the emotional and the spiritual. And when I started doing that, I found more balance within my life. I’m wondering how you think right now, as a, as human beings that were out of balance,

Chief Joseph: [00:50:23] yeah, I think, our contemporary society, I think, has been so driven by achievement status and wealth position, that we’ve done it at the expense of our emotional and spiritual well-being and that the things we’ve bought into are so competitive that we lost sight of the interests of other things, other people, other elements of our own life existence.

And that’s why. They’re, they’re really simple words in culture is like interconnectedness and balance, go hand in hand. And if it doesn’t, forget about even talking about it, right, we’ve got to make an effort, making sure that there is a connection between those elements of ourselves, spiritual, emotional, physical, and one of the best ways.

Different cultures have different ways of actualizing and breathing life into that idea, is, is through prayer, prayer and ceremony. The most famous ones are smudge or, or that for me, living in an urban city, being as old as I am now and not being as connected as I used to be. My own quiet.

Prayer I, I have to depend on. And the first thing I do every morning is I plant my foot beside my bed on the floor. And I sit there and I wait to balance my body a little bit and then I just move into prayer after that and it’s so ritualistic now, I can’t believe because I used to hate ritualistic, as not being authentic, and I do the same.

Gissele: [00:52:31] You found comfort in that.

Chief Joseph: [00:52:32] Yeah.

Same thing at night. And it’s good. And then of course we have all these technology that allows us to see things from afar. And I still watch a young indigenous people practicing culture in different ways, the best they can through technology. And I think my God, they’re adaptive. I’m so proud of that.

Gissele: [00:52:57] Absolutely. And it’s so interesting because, one of the questions I had was what the resiliency of indigenous people, I mean, you know, in their ability to adapt and to be able to, despite everything that happened, I mean, how do you destroy people? You take their children and you take their culture.

And despite that, they’re still, there’s a resiliency. There’s like, a power. And so I was just wondering if you’d talk a little bit about that.

Chief Joseph: [00:53:21] Yeah. Yeah. You’re right. I watch the news and I know people, indigenous people, and I know of some of their experiences. I know the collective experience and we have been through so much and it mirrors in.

I small way, my own way, go into this residential school, battling and struggling with dysfunction, anger, and rage. But there was always something inside of me that said, don’t, don’t quit, don’t surrender, don’t throw your hands up, it’s not over. And somewhere along the way, there’s a rainbow and you gotta find that rainbow.

So learn how to get up every time, learn how to have faith and hope.

I think that’s really key the faith and the hope it says, even if you don’t move for sure, but. Have this faith and hope that leads. You got to keep trying until you find out, maybe it’s little by little incremental and the solution, or the answer is somewhere in there. It’s going to happen in little steps right now.

Maybe it’s going to take a while. And so you do everything that you can in your power to hold on. I think it’s what I did. I held on to the idea that somewhere there’s gotta be something better. Yeah, absolutely. And the missing and murdered indigenous women and all the women at home in our villages, especially they are so resilient.

Yeah, we have to deal with all of the violence, the isolation and our men of course they are the chiefs, they can go out and have high profile positions, be busy, changing the world and you have our women at home. Living the suffering and dispossession, watching their children acting out in different ways and they never quit.

They live, they never stopped loving that’s key too. And they love their children so much just like other parents so much that they’re not gonna, they’re not going to quit. And I guess that’s part of resilience too.

Gissele: [00:56:21] Yeah, it’s in the heart, right? It comes from within out.

Chief Joseph: [00:56:28] I like to refer to it as others referred to the, indomitable spirit, human spirits. Now, I don’t know what it is, but I turned to that every time I can’t figure it out. And I say, I got to trust that, indomitable human spirit. That’s what I do really. Even if I don’t understand what that means, exactly. It’s an anchor hold. There’s times in our lives that gets so tough that you need an anchor hold somewhere, just to hold on to, yeah.

Gissele: [00:57:02] Yeah. I do believe that we’re more than just this bag of bones, right. And muscles.

Chief Joseph: [00:57:08] Yeah.

Gissele: [00:57:08] I’ve had too many experiences where I felt guided. And, to just think that we’re just kind of living in a random universe and my hope is that. Love and compassion will be the ultimate, how we ultimate practice that we’re all gonna make that commitment. hopefully,

Chief Joseph: [00:57:26] Yeah, yeah.

Gissele: [00:57:27] So you’ve worked with a number of international leaders working on peace in the world. I was just wondering about, some of the lessons you’ve learned, some of the things you’ve learned in working with international leaders and some of the universal struggles, I guess we would see you mentioned one with racism. I wonder if there’s others.

Chief Joseph: [00:57:45] Yeah, I think it’s really important to point out from my experience, at least at all of the struggles we have, where we live right now at home are the same struggles on the international measure of human misunderstanding, resulting in brutality sometimes and brokenness and it remains there, unless they have dialogue, unless we create international forums where people can talk to each other, learn from each other.

And that it’s like being in a home, you got to really first take care of yourself and then you take care of the family. Then it’s a community, then it’s the nation. And then it’s our human family. And one of the things. Really important things that I discovered was, and I didn’t always know. I heard the term lots that we have a common humanity.

I thought, what the hell does that mean? Common humanity.

Gissele: [00:58:56] You use that term a lot in compassion is it helps you understand that everyone suffers. So I suffer at some point you suffer at some point and our mutual suffering helps us acquire common humanity. That’s what, at least that’s what I’ve heard.

Chief Joseph: [00:59:11] And I think, I think, That’s what we need to learn, that we are all one, no matter where we are, no matter who we are, no matter if we’re on a national platform or a guy in a basement, like I am, you know, living my life and still dreaming, coping better things. Not only for myself, but everybody. I really believe in the notion of everybody.

The more of us do that. The more we’re going to find, find some solutions. I think we have so much in common, people, whether they’re Brown or black or green, or white, We can find more about us. That’s common, then those things that divide us if we really wanted to, or if we made, or if we had the dialogue, that’s so essential to coexistence, you know.

Gissele: [01:00:11] I agree. I agree. I’m probably gonna ask a very awkward question, but, you had mentioned smudging earlier and I think that. I mean, I like, I’ve been involved with smudging. I really like smudging as well, but I always worry about the cultural appropriation piece. And so where’s the fine line. Like where are you honoring the culture of another, of a fellow brother and sister in where you, overstepping, I guess, cause I know people want to learn and want to practice, but they’re also. There’s this whole bunch of fear right now in terms of I don’t want to be disrespectful. At the same time and so I was just wondering if you could provide some guidance on how we can do that in a more respectful way.

Chief Joseph: [01:00:53] You know, what other things are really important about all of that? When we think about appropriation or stealing one’s cultural knowledge or. Let’s get together. Turn to that.

I think, I think it’s all about relationships. If you have no relationship with any indigenous person, we have no right to use any of it.

Gissele: [01:01:20] It makes sense.

Chief Joseph: [01:01:21] But if you. Have developed a meaningful relationship and it’s real and you hold each other up from both sides of that relationship. And you’re granted grace to be able to practice part of that culture. That’s I think that’s cool, but you can’t just appropriate it. You’ve seen it. You read about it. And you hold it up and say, then that’s offensive.

Gissele: [01:01:56] I agree. And that’s a really good guideline in terms of having a relationship and also understanding how to do it. Right? Like how, what does it mean as well? Cause I think those are there’s different meanings to the different traditions and, rituals. And so I think, you can be very disrespectful very quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it right.

Chief Joseph: [01:02:17] And, and by the grace you’re allowed to, or given permission to do that.

Gissele: [01:02:22] Yeah, for sure.

Chief Joseph: [01:02:24] Yeah.

Gissele: [01:02:24] I think that’s the most respectful way.

Chief Joseph: [01:02:27] Yeah. I hear lots about what we’re talking about right now.

Gissele: [01:02:31] That’s why I wanted to ask the question. Since you mentioned smudging,

Chief Joseph: [01:02:36] My, my son, has, consultancy called, not what’s it called, but here he has a whole list of materials on his website. That’s why I mention it to you. And his name is Robert Joseph jr. But he has a whole protocol on that, on that question and other questions. Yeah.

Gissele: [01:03:00] That’s great. Is there any way, maybe I can get the link afterwards. We can share it with others and we can also find it ourselves.

Chief Joseph: [01:03:07] You find that www.bobjoseph.com

Oh, okay.


Gissele: [01:03:13] No junior Bob Joseph, just Bob Joseph.

Chief Joseph: [01:03:15] Yeah, you could put in your url. You need, but it’s just Bob Joseph.

Gissele: [01:03:19] Oh, okay. Beautiful. That would be really helpful to people because there’s a lot of people that are in need.

Chief Joseph: [01:03:24] And he’s got really a lot of good material on that website. How about, about land acknowledgments, how to behave at pot-latches and powwows.

Gissele: [01:03:37] That’s really, really helpful. That’s so great. That’s such a great resource. Thank you for sharing that.

Chief Joseph: [01:03:44] Yeah.

Gissele: [01:03:44] And thank you so, so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure. I mean, I am absolutely blown away by your compassion and your caring, despite everything that you’ve lived through personally, and despite what your community has lived through and your willingness to be able to see everyone as one as one, human family.

As part of the universe, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom today with us, and we hope that you come back again soon or sometime again. I want everyone to check out reconciliation, Canada, and please donate to this fantastic work. Thank you so much for listening to the Love and Compassion podcast with Gissele Taraba and, come back and see us soon for another amazing topic.

Thank you so much, chief.

Chief Joseph: Thank you, all the best.

(c) Music: Mission Ready by Ketsa, 2019. No changes made. https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ketsa/Raising_Frequecy/Mission_Ready

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