British Columbia

Chief Robert Joseph, residential school survivor, to receive social justice award

Reconciliation starts with small moments and little steps toward mutual respect, says Chief Robert Joseph who is being recognized with a social justice award.

'We start today. We start with every little step,' says hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation

Chief Robert Joseph from the Gwawaenuk First Nation will receive an award from the Wallenberg Sugihara Civil Courage Society on Sunday for his work toward reconciliation for Canada's aboriginal people. (Reconciliation Canada)

Reconciliation starts with small moments and little steps toward mutual respect, says Reconciliation Canada co-founder, Chief Robert Joseph.

Joseph is one of approximately 150,000 First Nations children who suffered years of abuse, isolation and trauma in Canada's residential schools. He is also the hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation.

"True reconciliation, fundamentally, is about relationships. It means that you and I can coexist in mutual respect and all of us can afford each other dignity," he said.

"Then we work on those issues that divide us. Sometimes it's attitudinal racism, sometimes it's economics, sometimes it's social."

Joseph is receiving an award from the Wallenberg Sugihara Civil Courage Society Sunday for his work.

The award is given to an individual who has stood up against social injustice at significant personal risk.

'It's really hard to shake the trauma'

Joseph, an honourary witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says he spoke out about his experience in residential school because many Canadians still don't understand the impact it had on him and his peers.

"It's really hard to shake the trauma that resulted from that experience ... from time to time, I revert back to the broken person who's harmed very deeply," he said.

"It influences how you see the world around you, how you behave and how you act."

He describes the challenges he faces everyday.

"I have to work very hard to try and be my best self, to live out my life in the way that I have respect for everybody and everything around me."

Truth and Reconciliation report

Joseph says he had mixed feelings about the Truth and Reconciliation report when it was released last month.

"I do love this country. And after my own euphoria about having somebody that acknowledged ... us, little children in schools, I had to think about what does that mean to a country that's been told it affected genocide — cultural genocide."

But he says the report is a start because it provides leaders with a framework for discussion and ultimately, reconciliation, he said.

"I think that ultimately, if we're going to mitigate all the harm that's ever been done, that it's got to come about because we've had a real dialogue with each other and transformed our understanding and relationships with each other."

When people tell him reconciliation is a long ways away, Joseph says he tells them to be optimistic and proactive.

"We start today. We start with every little step," he said. "If we start right now, and this moment is a moment of reconciliation for some of us, it's a huge, huge achievement."

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Chief Robert Joseph on what true reconciliation looks like for Canada's First Nations.