The Ways We Are One: Reconciliation on Namwayut Terms

The transformation of reconciliation from a political imperative to a personal invitation is a deeply impactful endeavor that Chief Dr. Robert Joseph takes up with great care and wisdom in his book, Namwayut: A Pathway to Reconciliation. True to its title, Joseph grants readers the honour of walking alongside him. The greatest gift the book gives is the essence of its namesake: Namwayut (pronounced “num-wee-yut”) which means “those with whom you are one” (p. 234). Joseph’s storytelling power is such that the simple act of reading is a practice of oneness. Many would agree, as the book has also won a B.C. and Yukon Book Prize.

His searing prose and vivid storytelling call the best of our intentions forward so that we might examine them under the light of a reconciliation that asks us not just to listen, but about who we choose to be when graced with the truths of Residential School Survivors. The book details harrowing abuses that he and other students experienced at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay. It was at times difficult to read, but the genocide normalized in Canadian history through our country’s early silences on Residential Schools manifests now as a discomfort we can learn to carry by listening deeply (especially when it is difficult).

There was little more that I wanted to do than reach into the pages of Joseph’s book and comfort the young boy he was, standing at the steps of St. Michael’s as he detailed his first day there. Readers stand in the special place of insight often set aside for our most intimate relationships, where Joseph writes equally unvarnished truths about his life’s greatest joys: falling in love, having children and building his family, reconnecting with his birth mother, as well as community building honouring Residential School Survivors. The book does not uphold joy or finding one’s purpose as a goal of healing trauma, nor does it make bold promises. He demonstrates what is possible when we tread lightly through each day as though the words on its cover are carefully wrought instructions to live by: we are all one.

I do not believe that we should seek inspiration from accounts of such horrors as what Residential School survivors lived through. Inspiration can glorify the space that should be held for listening, turning vulnerable, courageous truths into a token which takes away reconciliation’s ability to exhale among another generation on its way through what Joseph described as the seven generations required to pass for healing to replace harm. If we are listening for inspiration, we aren’t hearing truths, but looking to be comforted in the face of discomfort. Joseph’s story is a call to reflect, and it was difficult to read its pages without being transformed by its raw honesty.

After reading the book I reflected upon the places where reconciliation became more ceremonial than a way of being in my life. I recommend it not just for its power to transform someone’s perspective, but because it deserves to be read and re-read. He writes so powerfully about reconciliation as a personal value because he has lived it in his own life and shows how we seldom have answers for why something happens, but we do get the chance to show compassion for others and ourselves. Reconciliation, as with many calls for justice, can seem so big that it is impossible to start anywhere because we see what we need to fix everywhere. Namwayut meets the magnitude of the question of how to meet Reconciliation in the everyday, where it takes flight as a kind of grace and way of meeting one another. It is a reminder that we can only meet the world to the extent that we have met ourselves in the people we become on the way to that kind of planet, and place we dream about.

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph’s book cannot be read but must be experienced. If there is anything to add to your reading list this year to begin or continue your Reconciliation journey, make it Namwayut.

Charlie C.
Programmer & Library Assistant, Main Library

Charlie loves to read across genres. His favourite part of working at the library is connecting people with resources to help better their lives and experiences; knowledge is a path to empowerment. Accordingly, he is interested in reading and borrowing adult non-fiction books related to almost everything. He enjoys reading about business, self-improvement, environmental sciences and spirituality/esotericism. Books that help ask big questions and invoke equally big wonder are among his favourites. Charlie’s other hobbies include writing, hiking, photography and cooking.