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Nisga’a leader, UNBC chancellor Joseph Gosnell Sr. dies

Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell Sr. UNBC photo
Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell Sr. UNBC photo

The University of Northern British Columbia community is mourning following news that Joseph Gosnell, Sr., the university’s seventh Chancellor, died in the early morning hours of Aug. 18, 2020. Gosnell served as Chancellor from 2019 until his death.

“It was an honour that a man as influential and well respected as Dr. Gosnell would be Chancellor for our University, and we are deeply saddened at such a profound loss,” said UNBC Board of Governors Chair Aaron Ekman. “The University community extends our heartfelt sympathy to his wife Adele, their seven children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and all those who reside in the Nisg̲a’a Nation. For decades they looked to this great man for his wisdom and leadership, and he led the way fearlessly and with compassion.”

Gosnell grew up in the communities of Gitwinksihlkw and Gitlaxt’aamiks, in the Nass River Valley, about 100 kilometres 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. He was the first elected President of the Nisg̲a’a Lisims Government and was instrumental in bringing modern medical care, education and resource management to his Nation.

UNBC is lowering its flags to half-mast to honour Gosnell.

“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 highlight amongst a long list of notable accomplishments was his role as the lead Nisg̲a’a representative in negotiations that led to the Nisg̲a’a Treaty signing in 1998. The Nisg̲a’a Treaty was the first modern treaty between a B.C. First Nation, British Columbia and Canada. 

Gosnell received the Order of British Columbia in 1999, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, now Indspire, in 2000, was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 and promoted to Companion in 2006, and received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.

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. 


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