A woman who was a true survivor, having gone through 12 years at a residential school, and who walked across the country to raise awareness about the damage done by those institutions has died.
Martha Joseph, 76, passed away April 7.
Joseph walked from Kelowna to Ottawa in 2005 to raise awareness about the residential school legacy and generate support for a formal apology from the federal government, suitable compensation, treatment public education and a monument for residential school survivors. She did a similar walk from Prince Rupert to Prince George in 2001.
Joseph, born and raised in Kispiox, spent 12 years in the Port Alberni Residential School where she said she was physically, sexually, and mentally abused and lost her native Gitxsan language during that time.
When she got out of the school, she was 16 and came to Terrace. Her first job was at the Terrace Inn and how she came upon it was a story in itself.
She was sitting in the lobby for a long time and when a clerk asked her why, she told him she had nowhere to go. He asked if she wanted a job and she said sure.
Joseph’s companion of the past two years, Jeremy Thompson, spoke about Joseph’s character last week.
“People that went into residential school and survived it are living legends in reality,” said Thompson.
Thompson met her at the All Nations Centre on Sparks Street.
I sat right in front of her and said ‘Hi, how are you,’” he said. “She said, ‘Aren’t you an interesting face. where did you come from?’”
They started talking and she told him about her arts and crafts.
Thompson then left town to go to Prince Rupert for a time but when he returned, he had her phone number in his pocket and ended up going to her place.
When he first went to her place, Joseph grabbed a full rack of clothes and told him to try them on to see if they fit.
“She talked mostly about the wildlife, moreso than the bikers who gave her sandwiches and $100 bills along the way,” said Thompson of stories Joseph would tell of her walking journeys.
Joseph asked him to stay to be a companion and look after her and he agreed. “So we became best friends,” Thompson said.
“Mostly I was drawn in to her wisdom and I knew she had lots to teach and so she was more my teacher,” he said.
Bruno Belanger from Gemma’s described Joseph as a “great lady, always smiling.”
She made dreamcatchers, blankets and dresses for resale by Belanger at his store.
A service for Joseph was held earlier this week at the Salvation Army chapel.