Gisday’wa (Dr. Alfred Joseph) accepting an honourary law degree from the University of Northern British Columbia.

Gisday’wa (Dr. Alfred Joseph) accepting an honourary law degree from the University of Northern British Columbia.

Gisday’wa farewell brings together nations and delegates

More than 500 people from every corner of the Hazelton, Moricetown and Smithers areas and beyond paid their respects to Gisday’wa.

A tremor went through the entire Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan communities last week as many continued mourning the loss of Gisday’wa (Dr. Alfred Joseph) last Wednesday at the Hagwilget Community Hall.

More than 500 people from every corner of the Hazelton, Moricetown and Smithers areas and beyond paid their respects to Gisday’wa.

Everyone who spoke recalled the paradox that was Gisday’wa.

Victor Jim briefly shared his thoughts of the monumental loss.

“Who are we going to turn to when we need confirmation we are doing the right thing?” Jim, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief himself, said.

Satsan (Herb George) was chosen to speak on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en.

“He was one of the greatest warriors our nation has ever known,” Satsan said. “He ensured our rights were recognized by Canada.”

One of his most important accomplishments was being part of the team who eventually convinced the legal system in Canada to recognize Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan oral history as fact and hereditary chiefs as expert witnesses.

“Without those two elements, I’m almost certain the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa trial would  have failed,” Peter Grant, lawyer representing hereditary chiefs during the trial, said.

Gisday’wa was one of two chiefs to attend all 374 trial days in the landmark court case and was also one of the plaintiffs to testify.

On top of the big impact Gisday’wa had on the world, he also had a positive affect on everyone he encountered.

“It didn’t matter if you spoke to him for 10 seconds or an hour,” Elgin Cutler, aboriginal support worker at Smithers Secondary, said. “When you walked away from the conversation you felt taller. He could find the best thing to say to you out of nowhere. I haven’t met many people that can do that.”

Joseph was bestowed the name Gisday’wa in 1974.

Gisday’wa’s unassuming demeanor, however, was only out-matched by his ability to influence.

“He taught us to walk softly and yet still have a big impact in everything we do,” John Olson, Gitxsan hereditary chief, said during his farewell.

Doug Donaldson, Stikine NDP MLA, remembers a very well-respected, talented man, who he had the privilege of spending time with.

“He bridged a huge gap in society,” Donaldson said. “It’s important the traditional knowledge is passed on and I think he did a good job of doing just that.”