Aboriginal leader is new entrepreneur-in-residence

- Dianne George

Judith Sayers plans to cover a lot of ground while serving as entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor for the faculties of business and law. Sayers, known in the Hupacasath language as Kekinusuqs, will be on campus about five days each month to share her legal and entrepreneurial expertise with the UVic community.

“I am very excited to be here,” says Sayers. “It’s a great opportunity to mentor students and others about building new relationships and working with Aboriginal communities, whether it is about regulatory and legal issues, or entrepreneurship.

“We’ve come a long way in Aboriginal law,” says Sayers. “When I graduated in 1981, the topic was not very fashionable.” She says discrimination and gender bias was also a problem. “It was hard to find a place to article as firms wanted to know how radical I was, and whether or not I wanted children.”

She got her start from Willie Littlechild—former Member of Parliament and Cree lawyer—who offered Sayers an opportunity to article with him in Alberta, which is where she first established her practice.

Sayers returned to BC in 1990 to complete a Bora Laskin fellowship on human rights and was called to the BC bar. In addition to running a law firm in Port Alberni, she served as the elected chief of the Hupacasath First Nation from 1995 to 2009, where she focussed on building capacity, sustainable development and restoring and rehabilitating Hupacasath territory.

During her time as chief, she oversaw the development of a woodlot, helped establish a hydro “run-of-river” project that generates enough electricity to power 6,000 homes, and launched tourism enterprises, including a canoe tours company and a gift shop. Some of the revenue from these ventures was used to build equity in other businesses. She also helped acquire a railway through the Island Corridor Foundation, an organic gardening business, and is in the process of building a cultural centre and an aggregates company.

“Anything is possible—right now there is so much opportunity,” says Sayers, who will also be involved in activities related to the National Aboriginal Economic Development Chair program.

“We’re extremely delighted to tap into Ms. Sayers’ expertise,” says Dean of Business Dr. Ali Dastmalchian. “The Faculty of Business has wanted to connect with her for years, and we are very pleased she has agreed to work with us to expand our understanding and connections with the Aboriginal community.”

Sayers will be working closely with students and faculty members to raise awareness of issues and challenges related to Aboriginal economic development, and she will contribute her considerable knowledge and experience to the university’s ongoing research in this field. She’s also writing a book about the treaty process and the transformation of Premier Gordon Campbell on this topic.

“We are very pleased to welcome Ms. Sayers to UVic Law,” says Dean of Law Donna Greschner. “She has a wealth of knowledge to share with our students. The faculty is a leader in Indigenous legal education and has a long tradition of offering innovative programming and leadership in this area. Her appointment continues that tradition.”

Sayers holds a business degree and was one of the first Indigenous law school graduates of the University of British Columbia. She practised law for 18 years in Alberta and British Columbia and has extensive experience working with international agencies and government bodies to advance the causes of First Nations rights, sustainable development and Aboriginal title issues. She was Chief of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni for 14 years, acted as its chief negotiator for many years, served as president of the Upnit Power Corporation and was also elected to the political executive of the First Nation Summit in 2006 for a two-year term.

Her many honours include the 2008 Silver Medal in Climate Change from the Canadian Environmental Association and induction into the Canadian Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame. She was twice honoured with a Woman of Distinction Award from the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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Keywords: Indigenous

People: Judith Sayers

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