By Eraina Hooyer
Former chief of the Samson Cree Nation, Victor Buffalo has received Canada’s highest civilian honour for lifetime achievement.
The Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean announced new appointments to the Order of Canada on July 1. Buffalo will be installed as an officer of the Order of Canada to recognize him for his outstanding achievements and service in Canada. He will be accepting his insignia in Ottawa at a later date.
Buffalo has had an impact on the nation and is a respected entrepreneur and leader. His efforts and works have helped First Nation businesses across the country thrive. Buffalo’s passion and focus on education has also helped give more opportunities for Samson Cree Nation members.
“I’m really very surprised and honoured,” said Buffalo. “And I’m a little nervous about being up there with all those people that are so well-deserving of the honour.”
Buffalo was born in the Samson Cree Nation in 1941 and after years of being disconnected from his family and his heritage in a residential school, Buffalo left the school and went to SAIT where he received his diploma in Chemical Technology and began working in that field.
Buffalo is widely known for his work in establishing the Peace Hills Trust in 1981, Canada’s first Aboriginal-owned financial institution. Buffalo trained Aboriginal staff and built the management capacity of Peace Hills Trust’s board of directors and the institution began giving personal and business loans investing in Aboriginal projects. It proved very successful and in 25 years it had grown to include eight branches with about $400 million in assets and 70 per cent Aboriginal workforce.
Buffalo’s passion for education motivated him to extend opportunities for all Samson Cree Nation members and in the 1980s founded the Samson Education Trust Fund for Samson students. The fund helped promote members to complete their post-secondary education and trades training. Buffalo also played a key part in establishing four modern schools ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
With a strong view on education Buffalo is currently obtaining his Bachelor of General Studies degree from Athabasca University with a focus on psychology. He continues to be involved in building up social structures and institutions on the Samson Cree Nation reserve that will secure opportunities and increase stability for the reserve for years to come.
Buffalo hopes to continue working on lowering the negative publicity of the Samson Cree and bringing the members on the reserve to an increasing prosperous level.
“The Samson Cree Nation will come back, they have always been leaders in the country,” said Buffalo. “There are a lot of things that I want to do. I certainly want to see if I can help the four nations of Hobbema. What we need is work and I want to focus on that and really promote the importance of education.”
Buffalo also played a major part with the 2005 landmark breach of treaty and trust lawsuit that granted the Samson Cree to gain control of the $348 million in oil and gas revenues that had been managed by the federal government. The funds were placed in the Kisoniyaminaw Heritage Trust Fund which will be used for the betterment of future generations of Samson members.
Buffalo’s heart is with the Samson Cree Nation and he believes that many people have helped him receive the honour.
“I think John F. Kennedy summarized it when he said that it was not one person that landed on the moon but the whole nation. That’s how I feel about it, I didn’t do this all myself. I feel that I accomplished this because of the work of many people.”
Buffalo’s work and perseverance has shown the way to the development of other economic development opportunities for the Nation including Samson Oil and Gas and the Samson Lake Louise Mall. Buffalo’s business insight has also put him as a member on many boards including Savanna Energy Services, the Aboriginal Program Advisory Committee at the Banff Centre for Management, the National Aboriginal Industries Committee and the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association.
There are three different levels of membership; Companion, Officer and Member honour people whose accomplishments vary in degree.
The Order of Canada was established in 1967 and recognizes outstanding achievement and service in various fields of human endeavor.