Chancellor Blaine Favel: An advocate for inclusion and opportunity


By Beverly Fast

Blaine Favel (BEd’87, LLD’12) made history this year when he was named the University of Saskatchewan’s first Aboriginal chancellor.

The official duties of chancellor include presiding over convocation ceremonies, conferring degrees, chairing Senate meetings and sitting as a member of the U of S Board of Governors. But it’s also an opportunity to champion a university that, according to Favel, is making a difference in the world.

“This is one of the finest institutions in the country,” he said. “We’re leaders in agriculture and science. We’re leaders in Aboriginal engagement and scholarship. We’ve got the synchrotron, the cyclotron, the Global Institute for Food Security, the Global Institute for Water Security. I see myself working closely with the university to grow in all these areas.”

And so, in addition to his day job as president and CEO of Calgary-based One Earth Oil and Gas Inc., Favel has been familiarizing himself with the university’s vision and goals, its signature areas, recent achievements—all the things that have changed since his days as an undergraduate student.

“My experience as an undergrad at the U of S was nothing but good times. I was fortunate in that I went to school with six of my cousins. We played sports—soccer and volleyball—so I had a very strong sense of community. I had a great time, and I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day.”

The tough part was deciding what he wanted to do. Favel was enrolled in the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) and on track to becoming a physical education teacher when he began considering a career in law. “In that sense, my undergraduate years were a learning process to understand where I wanted to be at the end of my academic career,” he said.

He graduated with his bachelor of education, but went on to complete a law degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He followed that up with an MBA at the Harvard Graduate School of Business—the first Aboriginal Canadian to do so.

Favel has been the “first Aboriginal” to do many things, yet he’s not a man who is comfortable wearing labels. This reluctance reflects a life- long focus on inclusion. He is deeply interested in advancing the Aboriginal community, and his work over the past 25 years speaks to that commitment. So while he acknowledges the significance of his appointment as the first Aboriginal chancellor in the university’s 106- year history, he’s clear that, “I’m the chancellor for the whole university, Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal.”

Connecting With Communities

Photo By Liam Richards

Favel grew up on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, located near Cutknife, Sask. His mother, Lucy, was a community health nurse; his father, Henry, was a rancher and band chief. In the early 1990s, Favel followed in his father’s footsteps when he was elected chief. One of the highlights of his term was the introduction of sentencing circles, the first community-based justice program to be established on a First Nation reserve in Canada.

He moved on to a four-year tenure as grand chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, where he was instrumental in establishing the First Nations Bank of Canada, Canada’s only Aboriginal-controlled bank, and the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), Canada’s first Indian gaming organization.

In 1998, Favel moved from local to international issues when Prime Minister Jean Chretien appointed him counsellor on international indigenous issues. He also served as special advisor to Phil Fontaine during Fontaine’s long tenure as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

It was Fontaine who suggested Favel when the Toronto-based Sprott Resource Group was looking to create resource-based investment opportunities with Aboriginal communities. The project matched Favel’s own focus on creating opportunities for Aboriginal communities to participate in Canada’s growth and prosperity.

In 2008, Favel was named CEO of One Earth Resources, an investment company that looks specifically at resource development and capacity building in First Nations communities across Canada.

A year later, he helped launch One Earth Farms, an innovative twist on corporate farming that is building agricultural capacity in First Nations communities across the prairies, while also making them equity owners in Canada’s largest corporate farm.
He is playing a more hands-on role as president and CEO of One Earth Oil and Gas, creating resource opportunities in partnership with Aboriginal communities. Earlier this year, the company signed its first joint venture agreement to explore and develop heavy oil projects on Gift Lake Métis Settlement lands in Alberta’s Peace River region.

With his business career moving in new directions, Favel’s relationship with the U of S has come full circle. In 2012, the university awarded him an honorary doctor of laws for his contributions to scholarship, education, public service and the Canadian public good.

As chancellor, he has an opportunity to be an ambassador for the university and the Aboriginal community. Asked in a Globe and Mail interview what his appointment said to the people of Canada, and to First Nations in particular, he said, “I think it is a very positive signal to the Aboriginal community that the university takes their issues and their interests to heart and it is sincerely advocating for them and will continue to work hard for them … I think what it says to Canada is that it speaks to the best values of Canadians. I think Canadians rightly perceive themselves as being fair-minded and generous in spirit and that everyone has the chance to advance in this country.”

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U of S chancellors: a legacy of firsts

The appointment of Blaine Favel as the university’s first Aboriginal chancellor follows a long tradition of “firsts” for people who have held that role.

Years in brackets are the years served as U of S chancellor.

  • Edward L. Wetmore (1907–17): First chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan.
  • Frederick W.G. Haultain (1917–39): First premier of Northwest Territories, played significant role in creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • F.H. Auld (1947–65): First director of extension at U of S (1910–12), long-serving Deputy Minister of Agriculture (1916–46), longest serving chancellor.
  • E.M. Culliton (1965–69): First U of S alumnus (BA’26, LLB’28) to be named chancellor, served as chief justice of Saskatchewan (1962–81).
  • The Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker (1969–79): First and, so far, only U of S alumnus (BA’15, MA’16, LLB’19) to become prime minister of Canada. He appointed the first female minister to Cabinet and the first Aboriginal member of Senate.
  • Emmett M. Hall (1980–86): U of S alumnus (LLB’19) known as one of fathers of national medicare system. Served on the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The Hon. Sylvia O. Fedoruk (1986–89): U of S alumna (BA’49, MA’51, LLD’06) involved in development of world’s first cobalt-60 unit at Royal University Hospital. First female Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, first female chancellor.
  • E.K. (Ted) Turner (1989–95): First agriculture alumnus (D/Agric’48, LLD’89) to be named chancellor. Long-serving president of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (1969–87).
  • M.L. (Peggy) McKercher (1995–2001): U of S alumna (BA’50, LLD’02), founding member and long-serving chair of Meewasin Valley Authority.
  • W. Thomas Molloy (2001–07): U of S alumnus (BA’64, LLB’64, LLD’09) chief federal negotiator for Nunavut Land Claim Agreement and the Nunavut Act.
  • Vera Pezer (2007–13): U of S alumna (BA’62, MA’64, PhD’77), led creation of first disability services for students and dedicated Aboriginal student support programs at the U of S.
  • Blaine Favel (incumbent): U of S alumnus (BA’87, LLD’12), first Aboriginal Canadian to attend Harvard Graduate School of Business and first Aboriginal U of S chancellor.

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