by Maureen Harmon
Blaine Favel (MBA 2001) grew up on Cree Indian reservation. His father was a chief, as was his grandfather before him. "It was a true democracy back then," says Favel, when a chief served at the will of the people. Favel recalls his father taking food from the family refrigerator to help a local family in need. He remembers his father and grandfather working with folks facing marital problems or troubles with the law. He remembers them grappling with unemployment and education issues among the people. He watched as his parents took in many foster children (in addition to their own seven) when local tribal members weren't able to care for them. "I was trained to be a public servant from a very young age."
Favel's résumé, at first glance, might lead one to believe that he had a hard time getting settled. He's been a lawyer, a Canadian diplomat, an oil-and-gas executive, and a Cree chief himself. And now he's chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. But there has been a single narrative running throughout all that work: his commitment to aboriginal Canadians. "Most of my career has been about trying to advance the interests of my people and combat poverty."
As the founder of One Earth Farms, Canada's largest farm, he partnered with First Nations in western Canada. When he created the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), it was First Nations that benefitted with jobs at a time when unemployment was widespread (SIGA was the first casino owned by the aboriginals in Canada and has since distributed $750 million to First Nations). As the CEO of One Earth Oil and Gas, Favel has worked with aboriginal Canadians to access and develop Canada's oil sands—the second-largest oil reserves outside of Saudi Arabia.
Now, in his roles as a university chancellor, he's set his sights on solving a few more issues for aboriginal Canadians and for the world.
Last fall, the University of Saskatchewan announced the creation of the Institute of Global Food Security—the first of its kind—to wrestle with the issues of an increasing global population and a decreasing global food supply. Favel figures his work in agriculture provides him with perspective on global food issues. In the next century, he notes, "We're going to have increased demand for food and shrinking global farm acreage. The land has to become more productive, and we have to be smarter about how we produce and distribute food globally." It's one of the issues that Favel has made a priority for his new position. The other is the education of the First Nations people.
"Saskatchewan has a higher per capita population of aboriginal Canadians than any other province in the country," says Favel. In the next few decades, they may make up the majority of the population, and it's important that they become educated, employed, and engaged. "The fact that I drew so much attention because I'm a Cree Indian is commentary, in and of itself, on the fact that there needs to be more of us in senior-level positions in Canada. There needs to be more chancellors. There needs to be more judges. There needs to be more successful entrepreneurs, so that success among aboriginals is not a surprise to anyone anymore. The success of my people is a reflection of the success of Canada."