Chief Victor S. Buffalo OC, AOE, LLD (hon), BAT (hon), Cree, 1941-

Victor Buffalo is a respected Alberta leader and entrepreneur. His pioneering work has helped First Nation businesses across Canada to prosper and thrive. His passion for education has opened new doors for Samson Cree Nation members.
Victor Buffalo was born in Samson Cree Nation (Maskquacis), Alberta. He had little time to enjoy family life with parents, Edgar and Helen, and his siblings. At the age of seven, Victor was sent to Indian Residential School and, although he was only a few miles from his home, he was worlds away from a loving family. Victor lived an isolated life, lonely and disconnected from his Aboriginal heritage and culture. He found solace in reading and developed considerable discipline and independence due to the strict routine of the school. At 20, Victor left residential school profoundly affected by the experience and carrying a fierce determination that would shape his life.
In 1964, Victor earned a Diploma in Chemical Technology from SAIT Polytechnic (Calgary) and began working in the field, first for Canada Tungsten Mining and then Canadian Celanese. He was one of the very first native graduates of the school. Two years later, Victor met and married his wife, Rema. In her, Victor found a life partner who would provide him with the love and support he had sorely missed in his early years. They had a traditional ceremony, which Elders said would produce a lasting marriage. The Elders were right. Over the years, Victor and Rema’s family grew to include four children: Heather, Steven, Brenda and Kevin.
After working in the mining industry for a number of years, Victor began to serve as a community development officer for the Indian Association of Alberta. Victor and Rema moved their family from Edmonton back home to the Samson Cree Nation where Victor served as a land administrator for the Reserve. With Chief George Manuel of the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) as his mentor, Victor became increasingly involved in community and national politics. He served one term as an elected Councillor before being elected Chief of the Samson Cree Nation for his first term in 1980.
In the early 1980’s, Victor took on a landmark project for Canadian Aboriginal communities. As one of the guiding forces behind Peace Hills Trust Company, he led the creation of Canada’s first and largest Aboriginal-owned financial institution. Victor faced obstacles as the Trust Company developed, including disbelief on many fronts that a First Nation could or should operate a bank. The lack of trained Aboriginal managers and staff was another obstacle. Victor met both challenges with characteristic determination.
Peace Hills Trust opened its doors in 1981. The full service federally accredited institution began offering personal and business loans and investing in Aboriginal projects. Meanwhile, Victor set about training Aboriginal staff and building the management capacity of the Trust’s Board of Directors. By the time Peace Hills Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011, the institution had grown to include eight branches and some $600 million in assets, as well as an eighty percent plus Aboriginal workforce. Countless Aboriginal businesses, startups and expansions across the country, from farming and ranching operations to business and tourism ventures, can trace their success to support from Peace Hills Trust.
Chief Buffalo’s determination has led to the development of other economic development opportunities for the Samson Cree, from Samson Oil and Gas Inc. to the Samson Lake Louise Mall. His business acumen has also been put to good use as a member of numerous Boards of Directors, including Peace Hills Trust (Chairman for over 20 years), Peace Hills Insurance, Western Lakota Energy Services (TSX), Savanna Energy Services (TSX), the Aboriginal Program Advisory Committee at the Banff Centre for Management, the National Aboriginal Industries Committee and the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association. In addition, Victor Buffalo currently sits as a Director on the Economic Development Boards of other First Nations including Stoney Nakoda, Enoch and Ermineskin Nations. He was instrumental in the planning and construction of a RCMP Detachment building located on and owned by the Samson Nation which now serves the Maskquacis Reserves with better policing. Under Chief Buffalo Samson was one of the founding members of the Indian Resource Council. Currently he is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the First Nations Grain Management Company doing work primarily in China.
While his economic development contributions have been considerable, Victor’s greatest passion has arguably been to expand educational opportunities for all Samson Cree Nation members. In the 1980’s, he established the Samson Education Trust Fund.  The thirty million dollar Fund encourages Samson Nation members to complete university degrees and trades training. As more and more Samson members pursue these opportunities, Chief Buffalo has enjoyed the pleasure of seeing his people graduate in a wide range of disciplines from technical diplomas to Master’s degrees and Doctorates. During his five terms of office as Chief, Victor Buffalo vigorously pursued the construction and establishment of four large, state-of-the-art schools for his Reserves. Prior to this, no schools existed on the Samson and Pigeon Lake Reserves and students were subjected to long bus rides off reserve to a variety of schools that did not reflect their culture or ways of learning.
Chief Buffalo opened another important door for Samson and all Canadian Aboriginal people, with a 2005 landmark breach of trust lawsuit against Canada that permitted the Samson Cree to gain control of $350 million of their own oil and gas revenues that had been previously administered and controlled by the federal government. The moneys were transferred and placed in a perpetual independent Trust, the Kisoniyaminaw Heritage Trust Fund, which contributes significantly to the First Nation’s continued journey toward economic independence now and in the many generations to come. A number of other First Nations have followed in Samson’s footsteps and have now gained complete control of their own moneys.
Chief Buffalo has been and is the President of the International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD) for many years. Over the past two decades IOIRD has accomplished several substantive goals. The two most noteworthy being granted Non Governmental Organization (NGO) status by the United Nations and then using that status and platform to lead and support in the development of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2013 Victor Buffalo was a recipient of the Napio (Men of Honour) Award from the Creating Hope Society of Alberta. In 2012 Chief Buffalo became a Laureate of a Canadian National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the field of Business and Commerce. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta in 2010. In 2009 an Honorary Bachelor of Technology Degree (BAT) was bestowed upon him by SAIT Polytechnic (Alberta). That same year Chief Buffalo was invested into the Order of Canada at the Officer (OC) level by Her Excellency the Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean, Ottawa. He was appointed to the Alberta Order of Excellence (AOE) presented by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta in 2007. In 2006, Victor Buffalo was inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Toronto. In 2005, he received an Alberta Centennial Medal in recognition of his many contributions to the Province of Alberta.
Victor lost his life partner when Rema passed away in 2007. He describes her as the guiding force in his life and takes great pride in the accomplishments of their children, who have all pursued post secondary education and taken on leadership roles within the Aboriginal community. Chief Buffalo continues to honour his own lifelong commitment to learning by pursuing a university degree online, with a focus on Psychology. He is also working to build up social structures and institutions on the Samson Reserve and develop a strategic plan that will ensure increased stability and opportunities for the members of his Nation well into the future.

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Copyright 2013