Staying Strong: Dancer Joseph Thomas Lifts his Voice in Prayer and Song
"Stay strong and pray every day," says Joseph Thomas. He is a member of Esquimalt First Nation who has been singing in the longhouse for over thirty years. His grandfather was the original singer of the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers, the South Island Dancers, and Thomas got his start as a dancer for him back in 1999. When his grandfather passed away, Thomas was approached by the hereditary chief and asked to continue dancing as people were looking for the group to perform.
The group has since become a family group, including his wife and children, and they are now known as the Joseph Singers and Dancers. The chief arranged their participation in a performance with just a day’s notice at one point. They scrambled to pull it all together and it went surprisingly well. He’s been raising his kids in hopes they will carry on the family legacy and they were able to come through when it counted and have a good time in the process.
Growing up, he wasn’t raised by his parents and most of his life he was told that he was an orphan and nobody wanted him. That’s how he can relate to people who weren’t raised by their families. What he learned from his grandmother was a practice of prayer, that his prayers would be heard by the creator whether he attended church or practiced Christianity or not. She told him to ask for what he needed, not what he wanted and that’s what he’s done over the course of his life.
Two of his seven children and his granddaughter live with him and he and his family have been staying with relatives after losing their home. To get through this hard time, Thomas has been visiting with family and friends, motivated by his granddaughter and maintaining a positive attitude, knowing he’s been through worse and survived. He participates in his cultural activities as part of his healing, including cultural baths.
Thomas has words of encouragement for youth who are finding their path and older generations who are reconnecting after not having a chance to participate in their culture. He says, "Take care, not only yourself, your family, your friends… There's always somebody there. You meet people for a reason. Creator sends them to you."
What he’s learned over time is that some of the people you meet along the way will stay in your life and some will bring you inspiration and encouragement that stays with you for longer than they remain in your circle. Some of the people who brought him the most hope are no longer in his life, while others have lingered.
Whether people stay or go, whether you have a place of your home to call home or not, Joseph Thomas has lived his advice, “Stay strong and pray every day.” Lifting his voice and the spirits of those who watch him dance, he’s doing what he can with what he has and remembering who he is: a singer, a dancer, a father, a grandfather, a husband and a believer in better things to come.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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