Judith Sayers appointed chancellor of Vancouver Island University

Nanaimo, BC

Prominent Hupacasath leader and NTC President Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers, has accepted a three-year term as VIU chancellor beginning October 2020. She is the second Nuu-chah-nulth person to be offered the prestigious role, following A-in-chut, Shawn Atleo of Ahousaht.

Sayers will be installed as VIU’s third chancellor. Atleo served as VIU’s first chancellor from 2008 to 2014. He was followed by Louise Mandell, one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous rights lawyers. Mandell finishes her term this fall.

According to VIU, those who serve as chancellor do so on a voluntary basis.

“The chancellor acts as an ambassador for and a champion of the University. The chancellor is the titular head of the university, presiding over convocation ceremonies, conferring degrees and providing advice to the president. The chancellor is a member of the Board of Governors and the Senate,” states the VIU website.

Sayers says the new appointment will not interfere with her job at the NTC.

“I got consent of the NTC directors many months ago,” she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Her duties will include presiding over commencement ceremonies, which will take four to nine days a year. In addition, she will have an honorary seat on the VIU Board who meet five days each year.

In their news release VIU describes Sayers as a prominent local Indigenous leader, sustainable development advocate and passionate educator.

“Sayers holds a business and 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,” reads the VIU media release.

Sayers served her nation for 14 years as Hupacasath elected chief and was instrumental in the development of a run-of-river hydro project, which was an economic development project for the Hupacasath. Sayers also served as Hupacasath’s chief negotiator during the Nuu-chah-nulth treaty dealings with both the federal and provincial governments.

“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,” said 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.”

While she says she is there to represent all students, Sayers sees this as an opportunity help more Indigenous people get into post-secondary institutions.

“I think with TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) there is an opportunity to remove those barriers to allow Indigenous people to have a voice and to have access to university,” Sayers said.

She is excited to be part of a trend that sees other Indigenous people being offered these positions in other places.

“Steven Point was appointed chancellor at UBC and Kim Baird was appointed at Kwantlen Polytechnic University,” Sayers noted.

“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,” Dr. Saucier stated. “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.”

Sayers has said that she intends to make the university a more inviting place for Indigenous students.

“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.”

“A lot of my life has been spent in advocacy, fighting on the front lines for many different causes,” she continued. “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.”

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 inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame.

Sayers says her family is very excited about her new role. Both she and her brother earned university degrees while her daughter is working on a doctorate degree at UVic.

“My son is working at NRT (New Relationship Trust) on clean energy projects; he hopes to go back to do masters or law degree,” she shared.  

Sayers says there are many Indigenous students at VIU, including a large number of Nuu-chah-nulth-aht. Their numbers make up 10 per cent of the student populations at the university. Sayers hopes to see that number grow.

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