Joe P Cardinal - Footprints

Joe P Cardinal was a Chief, Elder and served on many Boards including AMMSA.
Recipient Name: 
Joe P Cardinal
Date of Passing: 
Fri, 2003-12-12

Joe P. Cardinal: He will be missed
Windspeaker Staff

Joseph Patchakes Cardinal, known as "Joe P" to his relatives and friends, passed away Dec. 12 at the age of 82. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Jennie Cardinal, as well as seven children, a sister Catherine Cardinal, and a large extended family.

Born to Patchakes and Honoreen Cardinal at Birch Mountain in northern Alberta on Nov. 19, 1921, Joe's early life was spent on the trapline along with five sisters and one brother. When the family wasn't trapping, they farmed. They never went hungry while Joe's father was alive.When Joe, the youngest son, was just six years old, his father passed away.

In 1929, Joe's family moved to Saddle Lake, where he attended the first Blue Quills Indian Residential School to Grade 6. Joe's recollection was that he had learned a smattering of English and mathematics, but he got a lot of experience working on the residential school's farm.

At 19, Joe joined an armored division of the Canadian Army and survived Germany, Italy and the beaches of Normandy. Following the Second World War, Joe met Jennie Caroline, whom he married in 1947, and with whom he had eight children: Ernie, Theresa, the late Eugene, Anne, Emile, Elaine, Ricky and Mona.

The couple became foster parents to numerous children and they adopted several: Ruth Morin, Wilton Goodstriker and Charlie Monckman of Edmonton; Francis Whiskeyjack of Saddle Lake; Ross Hoffman of Smithers, B.C.; Earl Henderson of Prince George, B.C.; and Butch Campbell of Tennessee, U.S.A.

The family in time expanded to include 22 grandchildren (two predeceased Joe) and 15 great-grandchildren.

With a large family to care for, it was only natural that Joe also cared passionately about their community. In the 1950s and 1960s, he took on leadership roles in Saddle Lake culminating in his becoming chief for two consecutive terms.

Joe's devotion to community service continued throughout his life and he contributed to many organizations, such as Native Counselling Services of Alberta (27 years) and the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (AMMSA), publisher of Windspeaker (15 years).

For many years and until his death he also had an active role on the Dreamcatcher Aboriginal Youth Conference's board.It is only five years since Joe and four other Elders guided the formation of Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton in order to bring a culturally based curriculum to Aboriginal high school students.In the eulogy that Nechi Training, Research & Health Promotions Institute's CEO Ruth Morin prepared with the help of the Cardinal family, she wrote, "Joe gave the school its name, as well as provided direction for the education of the young. Today the school has been recognized nationally and internationally by receiving many visitors ... Joe believed and advocated the importance of education for the young."

Ruth Suvee, chair of the mental health diploma program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, said she has known Joe and his family since the 1970s and she praised Joe's commitment to children, education, social and correctional services and other endeavors. She made special mention of his cross-cultural work, noting that although some Elders are opposed to teaching Indigenous culture in an institution, Joe saw the need to meet people where he found them and to pass the teachings along.She said he recognized that many Elders have departed without their knowledge being shared, and he was aware of the large urban Indian population that may never get the opportunity to learn in a traditional setting.Joe did considerable cross-cultural work for the staff at Grant MacEwan, she said, and when the mental health program ran a retreat, he said it was "very important to integrate the cultural teachings of the 16 Elders at the gathering," so that those who would work with Aboriginal people would understand them."

Joe endorsed it. Joe was a very traditional man, but he was also very involved in church. He believed in sharing traditional beliefs and practices."Suvee attributed his generous spirit and lack of prejudice to the fact that he had traveled extensively and had "a bigger world view."He walked his talk. He touched a lot of people."He was an Elder Advisor for the K Division of the RCMP, worked for the Aboriginal Wellness Program, and he helped establish the Nechi Institute and the Capital Health Region in Edmonton. Additionally, Joe served as an Elder on the National Parole Board, where he addressed about 2,800 inmates during his tenure, a responsibility he accepted with humility and respect, said Suvee.

In all these roles, those who knew him say that he was masterful at accommodating and blending traditional and contemporary practices and beliefs.In the early 1990s, Joe was one of the Elders who went to Davis Inlet, Labrador to help a troubled community there.

Lynda Ferguson a Métis from northern Alberta who works in the Aboriginal Education Centre at Grant MacEwan, said that while she was not a close friend of Joe's, she knew him as an Elder."He was an absolutely amazing man."

Ferguson heard Joe speak at Amiskwaciy Academy many times and said "His guidance as far as culture and tradition has made that school what it is.

"Whenever I heard him speak, I found him to be very inspiring, motivating, and I think he is going to be missed by hundreds and hundreds of people."Particularly youth, she said."

That's one thing Joe P. did, was he was able to captivate the young people."The last time Ferguson saw Joe was around the end of October when he was "very involved at that time with our Dreamcatcher's conference."

Noel McNaughton, president of AMMSA's board of directors, knew Joe since 1969. "He was a friend. He has always been a leader and a man with humility, which is what a leader needs. He tells the truth as he sees it, and he doesn't insist that everybody see his point of view."Some of the things that shaped him I think ... there were some Elders around that helped guide him. "One of the things that was very important in his life and I think taught him a lot about what he was-he was in the Second World War... And Joe discovered through that that these guys were the same as him, and it had a profound effect on him. I think that kind of guided him through the years with people of all races and nationalities.... There was no racism in him. He related to you by who you were, rather than where you came from or what your race was. "One of the other things I heard him say a few times was 'The role of a warrior is to face his own worst enemy, which is him... The task of the warrior is to overcome the fear of death and face who you really are and overcome your ego.' Protecting his community is the other part of the warrior's job, McNaughton said he learned. "Really, the warrior's task is to battle himself and to overcome all his fears and his faults ... and that was something I think Joe also lived by."

Rosemarie Willier, vice-president of AMMSA's board of directors, is another who knew Joe P. Cardinal as an extraordinary person. "I have never, never heard Joe say anything bad about anyone. Whenever he said something, it was always something good, and he showed a lot of respect, particularly to women. Joe "was such a gentleman and we'll definitely miss him." The first time I met Joe was at Nechi when he was helping as an Elder.... One of the things that I noticed about him too was that he touched so many lives because he was so involved, and I used to wonder, 'My goodness, where does this man get all the energy?'"

Willier said she was happy when Joe joined AMMSA's board, because she recognized how much help he would be."He is the type of person that you know immediately he is an honest person and that the decisions he helped to make would be something that I would respect."He was a no nonsense person," Willier said.

AMMSA board treasurer Chester Cunningham also observed Joe in numerous roles over the years.

Of his board contribution, Cunningham said, "his presence kind of stabilizes, gives people a comfort zone" in which others felt free to express themselves and know their opinions would be received with respect.

Joe was "a real good pipeline into the community, and an observant person. And he shared his ideas. He never kept them to himself," said Cunningham.They met in the mid-60s when Joe was with Alberta Community Development, building Aboriginal capacity to run their own organizations and improve access to employment and training opportunities. "Bringing them into the new world, I guess," explained Cunningham. "Because they were holding workshops and trying to develop some of the organizations into taking over some of the stuff that belonged to them."

Cunningham remembers that Joe worked on recruitment workshops at Syncrude in an effort to bring in more Aboriginal employees. "When I went to set up Native Counselling (Services of Alberta), I wanted Joe on the board, but Joe was the chief of Saddle Lake" by then, said Cunningham.

Around 1974 or 1975, Joe did join Native Counselling Services' board, and when the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) started requesting Elders to work in institutions, Cunningham said he recommended Joe for that role.

"Joe was really a good Elder.... He explained culture to me. That culture wasn't like the light bulb. You didn't turn it on. You lived it. And he said, 'Culture is your living. You bring your background, but the first thing you have to recognize is you're a person first.'... Too many of them try to say that they're an Aboriginal first and then go to the person, but it's the other way around." While serving on the parole board, Joe's participation "helped change the whole format of the parole hearings. They weren't as structured. They got into a circle and everybody talked." That change "really worked out with Native people," and Joe's influence led to formation of an all-Native parole board, Cunningham said.

The CSC offered Joe a job in Ottawa, but not only did he not want to relocate, he also did not like the idea that the system aimed to "categorize" Elders and put them under the auspices of prison chaplains.

Corrections wanted him, in effect, to create job descriptions for Elders working within the correctional system, who would then be mired "in a bunch of paperwork," according to Cunningham.Joe told them, "No. Our culture is not paperwork."

He also made it clear that Elders would be independent of the chaplains, Cunningham stated. Joe "was a good representative" for Aboriginal people at home and on the international stage, Cunningham recalled. "He told it as it was, and I never heard him raise his voice. He was always interested in the family."

Ruth Morin said Joe will be missed. "However, his teachings of love, camaraderie, commitment, and the vision of helping the young people are left with us. His work is complete. Our job is to honor and continue his vision."