Cowichan Tribes elder Abraham Casper Joe dead at 86

Abraham Casper Joe is greeted by then-B.C. Lt.-Gov Steven Point. - courtesy Joey Caro
Abraham Casper Joe is greeted by then-B.C. Lt.-Gov Steven Point.
— image credit: courtesy Joey Caro

Cowichan Tribes members are mourning Sunday's passing, in hospital, of elder statesman Abraham Casper Joe who paved paths to the reserve's housing reform, plus land-claims inroads.

He was 86.

Joe was born on Dec. 22, 1925 to Casper and Anna Joe.

In 1966, he saw a housing crisis on the Cowichan Tribes Reserve, with many Cowichan members living in shacks or in unacceptable homes.

That year the government offered only two houses in spite of this major need, so Joe organized massive protests, with support  from Cowichan Tribes, the University of Victoria, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and neighboring communities.

He generated nation-wide media attention, that brought an unprecedented federally funded housing project to Cowichan.

Former federal affairs minister, Arthur Laing, answered with 81 new houses, built between 1966 and 1971.

At Cowichan, Abraham was head of the public works department which put him in charge of roads, sewerage, water and other services. He  headed the grievance committee, serving as a council member for the tribe for several years.

In 1976, Joe became founding chairman of the land-claims committee, noted Joey Caro, Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group's communications manager.

"Abraham C. Joe has had a life-long involvement in politics and community activism, offering significant and continual support to land-claims efforts of island Coast Salish communities," he says in a release.

"This important inter-tribal committee rallied strong political sentiment among many island Coast Salish bands in response to land claims of the federal government.

"This effort continued for several years and planted seeds for the formation of the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group."

Joe lived  on his family's land in Comiaken, on the Cowichan Reserve.

He attended the Kuper Island Residential School.

He was an accomplished boxer in his youth, and he used to fish with his grandfather, worked as a logger, a farmer and operated a rock quarry.

"In 1967, Abraham joined the Shaker Church, " said Caro. "He travelled widely in Washington state, and British Columbia, and was often called on as an elder of the Shaker Church."

Joe is survived by seven daughters, two sons and many grandchildren.

Prayer services happen at the Duncan Indian Shaker Church Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.

The funeral service will be held Thursday  at the Shaker Church. The burial ceremony will take place at the Shaker Cemetery on Indian Road, followed by lunch in the Shaker Church Dining Hall.

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