UPEI community mourns the loss of alumnus Keptin John Joe Sark, LLD
The University community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Keptin John Joe Sark, LLD, on January 8. He was the first Mi’kmaq graduate student from the University of Prince Edward Island with a BA in Political Science (1979), and in 2005 was the first Mi’kmaq to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws. A spiritual leader and Keptin of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, Dr. Sark remained committed to UPEI and was involved in many ways over the years.
In a message to students, faculty, and staff, Dr. Greg Keefe, UPEI President and Vice-Chancellor (interim) said, “The passing of UPEI alumnus and honorary degree recipient, Keptin John Joe Sark, has touched many in Epekwitk, Mi’kmaki, Turtle Island, and beyond. On behalf of the entire University community, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues, especially those here at UPEI.”
The members of the Faculty of Indigenous Knowledge, Education, Research, and Applied Studies (IKERAS) were especially saddened to learn of Dr. Sark’s passing. Interim Dean Dr. Gary Evans indicated that they had been engaged with him very recently on potential initiatives, including discussions about him being a guest lecturer for the faculty.
“It was with sad hearts that the Faculty of Indigenous Knowledge, Education, Research, and Applied Studies pay tribute to Dr. Sark,” said Dr. Evans. “John Joe had a keen interest in guest lecturing given his breadth of cultural knowledge in many fields. It was his drive and tireless work that defined him. He was a defender of Treaty Rights, social justice activist, and a true ambassador for Truth and Reconciliation long before it was introduced to the Canadian public.”
David Varis, IKERAS assistant professor, recalls meeting Dr. Sark. “I remember well the first time getting to know Dr. Sark. It was when I took my summer Aboriginal Contemporary Issues and Perspectives class to his home in Johnston’s River to experience a sacred sharing circle. John Joe, as he was known, welcomed us warmly and we just chatted. It was a nice way to begin as any apprehensiveness students may have had melted away instantaneously as John Joe simply put them at ease. We then went onto his well-cared property, which overlooked the river. He talked about the traditions as we walked toward his sweat lodge, and then the birchbark wigwam, where he conducted a sacred sharing circle for the class. For quite a few summers I took students there, and no one was disappointed. We all got to know John Joe well, and that infectious laugh, sharp wit, and the teachings remain as vivid today as they did many years ago.”
Varis also recounted fondly going to the ceremony in 2005 when John Joe received his honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He was with family that day, his own and the University community; he remained committed to both right up until his passing, stated Varis.
“He personified commitment to his peoples, principles of justice, and teaching others. His spirit will be with us forever through his lifelong work.”
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