Former school board trustee, Prince Albert city councillor, and Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Lawrence Joseph said he was grateful, but a bit confused, after the FSIN executive held a special ceremony to celebrate his career.
Joseph and former speaker Milton Burns were both honoured by the executive for their years of public service during the FSIN spring session on Thursday. Joseph said he was humbled to be recognized, but a bit surprised too.
“Why? For what? That was my initial reaction,” Joseph chuckled during an interview on Thursday.
“It truly was an honour to be recognized like that. It’s something I never really expected. People are saying, ‘it’s about time,’ and ‘it’s well deserved,’ but I give credit to my family—my wife and children—for walking with me through that journey.”
Dignitaries were on hand to present Joseph and his family with a star blanket in recognition of his years of public service, and his advocacy for treaty rights, justice reform, and the safety of First Nations people. FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said they were grateful for Joseph’s leadership and voice.
“Chief Joseph is a leader of action who continues to work for a better future for First Nations in Saskatchewan,” Cameron said. “Chief Joseph’s compassion and unwavering support are just two of the qualities that make him an exceptional Chief. We thank Chief Joseph for his work to uphold First Nations’ Inherent and Treaty Rights, and we congratulate him on a very successful career.
“We also thank his family for lending him to the FSIN for so many years.”
Joseph was elected Chief of the FSIN in 1997 after spending more than a decade as Vice-Chief. Prior to that, however, he was well known in Prince Albert politics for serving as a city councillor.
Outside of politics, he volunteered his time singing at care homes and seniors lodges, bringing music to people who couldn’t go out on their own, and helped entertain residents every year by helping host Canada Day celebrations down at the river bank.
Joseph said he grew up in extreme poverty, and that’s what motivated him to dedicate his life to public service.
“I had nothing,” he remembered. “Never had a bike in my life. Never had a pony, never had anything.
“That’s how I grew up, and of course, I don’t like to see anybody struggle.”
Joseph is a former residential school student who described his experience as “not the best”, but said it did get him involved as a lay reader in the Anglican Church, something he’s continued to do for more than 50 years.
After graduating, he served in the Canadian Forces, and briefly considered joining the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam before deciding to stay home.
He worked as a federal public servant for more than 30 years, including six years at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, where he would often speak to inmates about the harm of drug and alcohol abuse.
Four decades later, a former inmate ran into one of his children, and told them how he hadn’t had a drink since after talking with Joseph.
While Joseph is proud of his public service, he’s even more grateful for his family who supported him, even when he wasn’t there for major events.
“It is a real honour, but also an opportunity to be able to thank my wife and our children for the years they stood by me, for the years they did special events without me, and for the years I missed watching a lot of things any other father would like to be a part of,” he explained.
Joseph said he has a few regrets about his public career, the biggest being his decision to stay quiet after a Prince Albert pawnshop owner with white supremacist ties shot a member of Big River First Nation in 1991.
Joseph was a Prince Albert city councillor at the time, and said he wishes he’d spoken up and brought more attention to the murder.
“There was no(body asking), ‘how in the heck did that guy ever get a business licence to operate a business in the City of Prince Albert, number one, and secondly, how do the good people of Prince Albert actually allow a person like that to operate out of the City of PA?” Joseph said. “I made no noise about that. I could have been very, very vocal and made the national news, but at the time I was very much a rookie politician. Today, there is no way that kind of stuff would have ever flown under the radar without any real push from myself as an elected person.”
Joseph spent 21 years in elected service, sometimes filling more than one elected role at a time. He described his last election loss as a blessing in disguise, however, since it allowed him to spend time with the group he loves the most—his family.
“The Lord does funny things,” he said. “I was hurt, because nobody likes to lose an election, but today I thank God I did lose that election because I got to see my grandchildren grow up.”
When asked what accomplishment he’s most proud of, Joseph said it’s seeing his own children and grandchildren follow in his shoes and volunteer their time around Prince Albert.
“Through it all, I think public service has been in my blood,” he said. “Certainly I’m proud to say my wife and my children are all addicted to public service. Still today in our late stages we’re being called to do work.”