Blaine Favel, the president of One Earth Oil and Gas and a former chief of the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, has been appointed chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan.
The decision was made Saturday morning by the university's senate. Mr. Favel is an alumnus who was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by the university last year. He is a lawyer and former head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations who holds a masters of business administration from Harvard.
The chancellor's role is largely ceremonial. But the University of Saskatchewan is the largest postsecondary institution in the province and the title provides Mr. Favel with the opportunity to promote causes that he considers important. He spoke to The Globe and Mail about the job.
What will be your priorities as chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan?
In particular, there are two themes that I have identified. One is the resource sector – making sure that a rising tide lifts all ships and that the university is in a position to prepare the next generation for participation and growth in the resource sector, and to benefit from it as an institution. The second is to focus on trying to get some concrete, measurable progress on aboriginal education, on aboriginal graduation rates in all of the sections of the university, not just the traditional ones of education and law.
What does your appointment say to the people of Canada and to the First Nations in particular?
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, and hence the appointment of an aboriginal chancellor. 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.
As you continue in your job as president and CEO of One Earth Oil and Gas, what opportunities and challenges do you see for First Nations in the resource industry?
I view the aboriginal resource space and the service-contracts space as probably some of the most exciting spaces in the Canadian industry because you are seeing the transition of the next generation of resource executives coming in and growing by what was initially baby steps into the space pioneered by communities such as Fort McKay here in northern Alberta and other communities. And now I just think that is going to become part of the ordinary course of business development and I think it's exciting. I think it bodes well for the Canadian economy.
We have heard much, in recent months, about increasing tensions between First Nations and other Canadians? What would you say are the first steps that should be taken to address those issues?
I think it's all about education. I think it's about educating Canadians about the real circumstance of the aboriginal communities. There is incredible poverty in the communities and incredible despair and there have been centuries of lack of opportunity. ...
Way back in the day when I was in politics, I started casinos for native people ... and I participated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a casino in Prince Albert called the Northern Lights Casino. They had a reception before the actual event and I was approached by this elderly gentleman. He was the principal of an inner city school. And he came to congratulate me on starting the casino because he said the majority of the students in his classrooms were aboriginal and he said it's been a real benefit to the community because the kids whose parents were working at the casino were coming to school with new running shoes, they were coming to school with food in their lunch bags where they once had none, they were happier, and they were being better students. And the main message I would have for Canadians is that poverty has a huge social consequence and that all we are seeking is an opportunity to take care of our children.