Distinguished Nisga’a elder and UNBC Chancellor Joseph Gosnell has died at his home in New Aiyansh, in northern BC at the age of 84.
According to a release by the Nisga’a Lisims government, he passed away peacefully in his home, after a battle with cancer.
He was the chief Nisga’a representative in negotiations with both the federal and provincial governments that led to the 1998 signing of the Nisga’a Treaty, the first modern treaty in Canada.
The treaty was implemented in 2000, giving the nation title to own 2.019 square kilometers of land in the Nass Valley.
It brought the Nisga’a out of the Indian Act, allowing the nation to run its own health services and schools.
“Today we have lost a giant,” said Eva Clayton, President of the Nisga’a Nation.
“His focus was always on what the Nisg̱a’a, British Columbians, and Canadians can achieve together. His legacy will help shape the project of reconciliation for generations to come.”
Gosnell was named chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia in 2019, where he served until his death.
He received four honorary Doctorate of Law degrees, from UNBC, Simon Fraser University, Royal Roads University and the Open Learning Agency.
He was also awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1999, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation in 2001, and was made a Companion to the Order of Canada in 2006.
“The world has lost a tremendous leader, a man who repeatedly demonstrated a love for his community, his people, education and a commitment to enhancing the lives of others,” said UNBC Interim President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Geoffrey Payne.
“His dedication to education was evident during his time as Chancellor. He brought dignity and respect to all proceedings, and spoke thoughtfully, inspiring our graduates at Convocation. He will be dearly missed.”
The University says it is lowering its flags to half-mast to honor the late Chancellor.
Gosnell grew up in the communities of Gitwinksihlkw and Gitlaxt’aamiks, in the Nass River Valley, about 100 kilometers north of Terrace.
As a young man he worked as a commercial fisherman, carpenter and traditional carver, and would eventually become a band Councillor and Chief of the Gitlaxt’aamiks Band.
A fluent speaker of the Nisg̲a’a language, Gosnell’s hereditary chief name is Sim’oogit Hleek, the most senior name in the House.
It means “well-used” or “most useful,” and in the manner that the Nation uses his wisdom, strength, and knowledge of culture to inform everything they do on the land.