Dr. Chief Robert Joseph
Honorary Doctorate of Law Speech
27 May 2003

Greetings everyone, Good morning

What a great day this is, what a special day!

Before I say too much more I want to point out to you, that is if we can stretch the truth just a little bit, you may be witnessing history in the making. You may be looking at the first ever doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Who knows, there may be a movie career out of this!

We know that we have Indian doctors. We know that we have Indian lawyers. And that there are far too many Indian chiefs. But a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief? It would make for a great script, a good movie tri-personality. We could call the movie "The three faces of Bobby Joe".

I would never have dreamed in a thousand years, that I could receive such an honour from this great institution, UBC. There are no words to describe this momentous occasion for me. I am deeply moved to be so honoured and to share this stage with the graduates before you. Congratulations!

I have long heard about UBC and its tradition of excellence. I have known about others who have received honorary degrees here because of their distinction and stature. I used to think that such honours belonged only to the rich and famous, to the intelligentsia, to those born into the right circumstance, and to people of races other than my own.

And so, it is with an even greater sense of humility that I accept this honorary degree. I would be remiss if I didn't thank Chancellor MacEachern, President Dr. Martha Piper and the Senate of UBC. I also want to thank the selections committee and all of those people who formally supported my nomination. Thank you Sharon Thira. Last but not least thank you family, friends, colleagues, and the community for giving inspiration to my life.

When I was six years old I ended up in an Indian Residential School. I spent ten lost years of my life there. The only language I knew was Kwakwala. Almost from the very first day I entered that school I was beaten for speaking my birthright. I would cry myself to sleep at night, alone and terribly lonely. When I ran out of tears I would fantasize about being home with my family and being in my home community. There were many times that I was very hungry and sometimes the worms danced on top of my porridge.

There was so much pain, so much harm, so much change in those 10 years at this school. There was so much trauma. Sometimes the details are difficult to remember but you can never really forget.

I did not know then what the R.C.A.P. has since discovered. Which was, that the aim of Indian Residential Schooling was "To kill the Indian in the child".

I did not realize that the goal of Sir John A MacDonald and the federal government was "To eliminate Indians until there is not a single Indian left in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic".

I did not know that all aboriginal people were undergoing a massive and traumatic alienation from their lands and cultures, families and communities. Like thousands upon thousands of others, I left residential school a broken spirit.

Without a spirit you have no spirituality. Without spirituality there is no hope, there is no peace.

Such is our shared legacy. For most Canadians this is Canada's secret. This university can and must help us to unlock this secret by educating all pupils to learn about this historic travesty.

I have traveled far and climbed many mountains in my life's journey. I have seen the darkness of my own abyss. From the depths of my utter despair and hopelessness I saw a miraculous vision. Through this vision I have seen the universe, one whole, one connectedness, one balance!

As I stood in awe of the wonder in my own supernatural moment, I came to know my place and part in this timeless symphony of life and creation. Before that, I was forced to relinquish my own reality for a while. I was taught to dismiss all that was prior to the coming of the first settlers. It was too high a price to exact for my education, for anyone's education.

I say to all you graduates beware that the price of your education does not become too high. Be true to yourselves. Maintain that balance between heart and soul and do not give away to intelligence only. Do not ever lose sight of who you are, for it is a gift from the creator that will lead you to your higher purpose. Do not give way to racism and intolerance. Do not give way to ignorance and apathy. Hold true to the creed that all persons are born equal and deserve dignity and respect. The quality of life for many may depend on you. Go and make a difference. The whole world waits for you.

In closing I want to leave a few words with this great institution with so much tradition. Stay the course. Be bold. Have vision. Tell this country about the real history between us. Our mutual healing and reconciliation depends on it.

Many aboriginals have passed through your doors - many more are coming. Encourage and support this trend. The House of Learning is a great place of transformation. Support it strongly.

You have strong and viable Aboriginal Advisory Committee's within faculties - strengthen these. Continue to encourage the involvement and success of aboriginal students through special initiatives. The success of our future rests in education. You are helping to create our leaders of tomorrow. See this as your duty. Encourage the development of aboriginals to become a part of your faculty and, yes even your Senate.

See my vision; see the universe; see the whole; see the connectedness; see the balance.

We can no longer be apart - we must bring about balance and harmony. Let us belong to this time and place together.


Thank you