For the last 10 years, Indigo has released its highly anticipated Best Books of the Year list, chosen by its team of book experts who love to read as much as we do. Indigo is proud to announce that B.C.’s very own Chief Robert Joseph, author of Namwayut: A Pathway to Reconciliation, has been awarded the No. 2 spot on this year’s list. In his book, Chief Joseph, a globally recognized peacebuilder and Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk People, traces his journey from his childhood surviving residential school to his present-day role as an inspiring leader. Reconciliation represents a long way forward, but it is a pathway toward our higher humanity, our highest selves, and an understanding that everybody matters. Chief Joseph tells us more, here. —Catherine Dunwoody
Thank you for your time today Chief Joseph, and congrats! Is this your first time making the Indigo list?
Thank you! Yes, it is!
Where in B.C. do you live?
I live on the Capilano Reserve under the Lions Gate Bridge. I am a visitor there, living on that land by the graciousness of the Squamish Nation. But I am Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, and I come from Gilford Island and Kingcome Inlet. Indigenous people’s sense of connection about who they are and where they come from is knowing the land where our Gi̱lga’lis, our first ancestors, originated. Our homelands and reserves are so important because in the absence of that, wherever else we went up until fairly recently in our history, we have never felt accepted. That’s why land acknolwedgements are so important, as even in ancient times they were part of our ceremonies to ask permission to come ashore.
When did you hear about your book, Namwayut: A Pathway to Reconciliation being selected in Indigo’s Best Books list? How was that for you?
I’m so happy, so delighted. But it’s important because, for me, I think the more people reading the book, the more that they will open themselves up to thinking about their own life narratives. In my story and in my own vulnerability of sharing my story, I hope that I have given them that chance. Books should have an impact on readers: where they’ve been, where they want to go, what they need to do.
Please tell us about your book. When did you start writing it?
I actually started a long time ago when I was a fledgling news reporter at the Vancouver Sun in the 1970s. And of course, immediately I thought, I’m going to write a book in my spare time. But I soon discovered that I didn’t have the story yet. I was this totally colonized person who didn’t have too many dreams yet about what I wanted to do with my life or determine who I was. But now with all my life experience up and down and sideways, when COVID hit I started to think about it. I even pulled out that old manuscript and read it again. But I had a lot of encouragement and I actually decided to jump into it.
Is this your first published book?
Yes. I’m proud of the fact that it’s not just a book about tragedy and despair. It’s about hope, and its about all of us. There are so many people everywhere who are broken or live their lives afraid. People have to know that if even they’ve had their own tragedies, they can move beyond that and do whatever they want to do.
How long have you been Chief of the Gwawaenuk People?
Since 1990, and it’s a chieftainship that belongs to my maternal grandma’s dad. My grandma’s name was Kwi̱nxwa̱la’og̱wa, and I was given the name Kwinkwinxwaligedzi Wakas, or Big Thunderbird, and all of my children were given names from his treasure box.
What can we as British Columbians put into practice from your book, that will move things in the direction you would like to see them? How can we be the change that is so needed?
It’s very simple. Love yourself. Anybody can love. That’s where you start. Don’t wait for someone to love you first. You are right there in front of you. It’s the only way to begin living. Love yourself.