NANAIMO, BC–A prominent local Indigenous leader, sustainable development advocate and passionate educator will be Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) next chancellor.
Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers, is president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council – a non-profit society that provides a wide variety of services and supports to 14 nations with about 10,000 members. Sayers holds a business and a law degree, as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws, from Queen’s University. She practiced law for 18 years in both Alberta and British Columbia, working in international forums and lobbying governments and other agencies for the promotion and protection of First Nations rights and title.
“One of the reasons I am attracted to VIU and to this position is how closely the university has worked with the Snuneymuxw First Nation and other Nations,” says Sayers. “I would like to see those kinds of partnerships continue to grow and flourish. VIU takes its commitment to reconciliation seriously, and I am excited to work with President Dr. Deb Saucier, who is also Indigenous, to continue implementing Indigenous ways of knowing and being.”
For many years, Sayers focused on self-determination and capacity-building within Nations. As Chief of her Nation – Hupacasath First Nation – for 14 years, she was instrumental in the development of the Upnit run-of-river project that boosted economic growth, a woodlot that operated with high environmental standards and eco-tourism canoe tours. She also secured both a land use plan and cedar use strategy to bring more certainty for the rights of the Hupacasath. As president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council since 2017, she has taken on a similar advocacy role.
“A lot of my life has been spent in advocacy, fighting on the front lines for many different causes,” says Sayers. “Higher education is my next area of focus. I’d like to take on a major role in promoting innovative ideas and better understanding through education.”
Dr. Deb Saucier, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, says the University is honoured to have Sayers as the next chancellor, following in the footsteps of Louise Mandell Q.C., one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous rights lawyers, and Shawn (A-in-chut) Atleo, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“Dr. Sayers’ accomplishments in advancing Indigenous rights and promoting capacity-building sustainable development projects set an example for our students and community members about what is possible when you put your passion and education to work,” Saucier said.
“I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Sayers to further advance the Indigenization of VIU and I am excited to watch the inspiring effect she will have on students.”
For her many accomplishments, Sayers became a member of the Order of Canada in 2019, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Clean Energy BC and was named to Canada’s 2016 Clean50 for being an outstanding contributor to clean capitalism. She has been a finalist for the Buffett award for Indigenous leadership and was twice awarded the Woman of Distinction from the Alberni Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business inducted Sayers into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame.
In her new role, Sayers intends to push the boundaries of what a university education entails.
“We need to be more open to working with students to do the kind of research they want to do in their own way,” she says. “So much of Indigenous history has never been written properly. When you see our students going out and exploring these areas, for me, it’s very exciting. We need to tell our own stories.”
Another goal is to continue working towards making the University a place where all belong and can participate equally.
“I would like VIU to be leading the charge to eradicate racism in any form and make the University a safe place – one where all students and employees see themselves reflected and respected and feel they belong,” she says. “The new challenge that COVID-19 has brought us is how can we change the way we learn and teach and participate going forward in a way that ensures all can participate without limits.”