Victor Buffalo will have to make room for one more award.
On June 19, the former Samson Cree chief and unabated entrepreneur will receive MacEwan University’s Medal of Excellence, the institution’s highest honour and Buffalo will deliver the convocation address to its School of Business graduates.
Buffalo has been recognized by many educational institutions over the years including the universities of Calgary, Lethbridge and Alberta where he received Honorary Doctor of Laws Degrees. His alma mater SAIT gave him its Distinguished Alumni Award and an Honorary Bachelor of Advanced Technology Degree.
Buffalo, a residential school survivor who went to study chemical technology, management and pastoral formation, said education in the key and especially encouraged Indigenous youth to consider studying business.
“The only way First Nations are going to get ahead is to get involved with business. There’s no other way. Through education and business,” said Buffalo, 76.
He said fresh ideas he hears from Indigenous youth are impressive, but they can’t forget their language or traditions.
“When we teach our kids language and tradition, they’re more astute, stronger. Rather than the one song that they sing, they’ve got to sing all the songs.”
Buffalo has received the Order of Canada, the Alberta Order of Excellence and the Alberta Centennial Medal.
In 1981 he was at the forefront for the inclusion of Aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution Act of Canada. He led a legal challenge against the Queen of England for constitutional recognition of Indigenous peoples in Canada. For many years he was president of the International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development which led and supported the development of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples in 2007.
Among his many business awards, Buffalo became a Laureate of a Canadian National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the field of Business & Commerce. He was also the first Indigenous person to be inducted into the Alberta Business Hall of Fame by Junior Achievement of Alberta and NWT.
Buffalo led the creation of Peace Hills Trust Company, Canada’s first and largest Indigenous-owned financial institution owned entirely by the Samson Nation. He was also involved in a landmark breach of trust lawsuit against Canada that permitted the Samson Cree to gain control its own oil and gas royalties.
As a director or trustee on different First Nations economic boards, he said it’s an exciting time for Indigenous people.
“I get very excited about start-up projects. It’s challenging. When you’ve got nothing to fix, it’s kind of a boring,” Buffalo said with a laugh.
He said his biggest challenge right now is working with Chinese investors on Central Alberta real estate projects. Negotiations have been going on for 10 years and he was eager to get the projects started.