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Ray Fox: A lifetime of meaningful work

Ray Fox has collected one honor after another over the past several years, and later this month he will be collecting another. Fox will be receiving the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal in a ceremony April 14 in Regina.
Ray Fox pic

Ray Fox has collected one honor after another over the past several years, and later this month he will be collecting another.

Fox will be receiving the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal in a ceremony April 14 in Regina.

He learned about the news  “ a little bit after everybody else got it — I had people phoning me and congratulating me and I said ‘whoa, what did I do this time?’”

But then he remembered he had been nominated for this award. 

He and his wife Krista will be heading down to Regina April 13 for what will be a busy couple of days. The actual ceremony will be the following day, in which Fox and the other recipients receive their medals from provincial Lt. Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield at Government House.

From there, they will head to the legislature, where MLA Herb Cox will introduce him.

“And so I thought that was kind of neat, too. And then after that I guess it’s over,” said Fox. “Somewhere in there, I think we’re going to eat something.”

The following is a list of some of the activities cited by the province when they announced Fox’s latest recognition:

He’s an Elder in the aboriginal community. He served as chairman, Battlefords and Area Legal Assistance Clinic Society (1974), he’s been a commissioner, Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission (1974). He’s been executive director, Battlefords Indian Métis Friendship Centre, rising to the position of president of the provincial association (AFCS) and National vice‐president of the national association (NAFC)

He’s had a 20-year career in broadcasting and media mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, that continues with his weekend show on CJNB radio. He was founding president and CEO, National Aboriginal Communications Society (1985), also serving as its chief executive officer.

Fox served on the University of Saskatchewan’s Regional Advisory Committee and RCMP Victim Services Personnel Committee.

He has worked with Battlefords United Way, Saskatchewan Association of School Councils, Prairie Employment Program, Sakewew High School Management Committee, Battlefords Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Battleford Advisory Group

He has served with the SaskCulture First Nations and Métis Advisory Circle since 2006.

Fox has been a volunteer First Nation chaplin for the Prairie North Health Region and fulfilled the role of keeper of the Wandering Spirit gravesite.

He’s been active as vice‐chair of the North Battleford Transitional Living Initiative Inc., which was active in the building of the Pocket Housing project in the Battlefords that opened to clients last year. And he’s served as a commissioner with the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission.

His current job is with BTC Justice, and as an aside, Fox has also been on the North Battleford city council for more than a decade. 

For Fox, this latest recognition goes along with a number of other honours he has received including: Battlefords Citizen of the Year 2008, honourable mention for the 2010 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Public Service for his involvement with the Battlefords Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals. He is also on the Battlefords Wall of Fame.

Not bad for a kid from Sweetgrass First Nation.

Does this recognition get old after a while? “I don’t think so,” said Fox.

“I guess it’s a recognition that someone’s paying attention to some of the things that you do, which can be scary as well. For my part, I like the idea that I’ve tried to do some good things for people and I guess once in a while this type of recognition comes back and kind of reaffirms what you are doing and that you’re actually making a little bit of a difference in your part of the world … I guess in that sense I’m honoured, and lucky actually, to be recognized as such.”

He’s also hopeful the recognition of positive role models has a positive impact, particularly in the aboriginal community, which he describes as particularly hurting with suicide rates in “outer space” among young people. 

“You want to be a good role model, in this day and age where we are now. There’s a lot of youth that are disenfranchised,” said Fox.

He worries a lot of them were turning to such things as reality TV (ie. “the Kardashians of the world”) and video games, and said those were taking young people  “to a different world. They have access to a place were things like caring for one another doesn’t exist any more. And nobody’s there to teach them because they’ve got nobody to emulate and nobody to watch to see why a person would want to do something for somebody. And so I think we need more people to be able to do that as well, and I think one of the ways to do that is to recognize people that are doing it.”

One group of people not making a good impression as role models are politicians. Fox isn’t too impressed with what he is seeing from some of his political colleagues lately.

On the one hand some, such as U.S. president Barack Obama, have been rendered ineffectual.

“Obama came like a galloping turd of hurdles there in the United States and man he was the toast of the town, everybody loved him,” Fox said. “Well, look at what they did to him now. He’s being forced into all sorts of different things and he’s basically a lame duck president now.” 

Then “look at our own situation”, he said, “with our own politicians and the troubles they are having. Fox pointed to the Mike Duffy senate scandal and trial that is beginning this month.

“When Duffy makes it to the court house and we start reporting on what’s going on in Duffy’s trial, I think they are going to very, very quickly understand how deep in the toilet we are when it comes to our politicians. So it’s hard to feel good about that kind of stuff.”

“It’s hard to fathom … how did we get to this point? How did we ever get here?” Fox added.

“That sort of stuff I think that kids are being bombarded with, and it’s tuning them out. They’re not wanting to be involved in something like that and I don’t blame them half of the time, because it doesn’t make any sense. So I think it’s appropriate that we still do things for the sake of doing things for people … that sort of stuff needs to be encouraged a lot more so that they understand and know what it’s like to be neighbours and on the same planet together. So I feel strongly about this.”

Several notable people who have inspired and helped Fox along the way in life, ranging from his own family members in the Battlefords and area, to the people who have educated him in the schools.

Among the influences was his grandfather on his father’s side. He and young Ray had some deep discussions about such things as the Bible and the differences between Christianity and First Nation religious beliefs.

Sister Mary Blanche taught him during his brief time at St. Mary School and had a big influence in his life. She was a devout Catholic, Fox recalls, but “she never really pushed that on us.”

As an example, Fox said he used to tell her about how he had drums at home he would use to sing powwow songs, and she would say “that’s very good, you should keep doing that, it’s part of your culture.” 

Another influence was Julian Sadlowski, who happened to be his school principal at St. Mary School at that same time.

When Fox was elected to city council in 2003, Sadlowski was also elected mayor — a situation which Fox likened to being the pupil learning from the headmaster again. ”It was like going back to school,” Fox said.

When Fox first began his municipal political career in North Battleford, a mentor he sought out was Senator Herb Sparrow, who he turned to for advice when deciding to run for the first time. He  remembers Sparrow strongly encouraging him to put his hat in the ring.

“He told me right up front,” said Fox, “you’re not going to know until you’ve tried it.”

Fox got his answer, all right. As he recounted at his Citizen of the Year induction dinner in early 2009, he went back to Sparrow with his tail between his legs after a dismal showing in that initial 1997 vote. That’s the thing, Sparrow had said, you often don’t get in the first time. 

Fox didn’t give up. He had a better showing in the 2000 vote. Finally, in 2003, he got in, and he’s been re-elected three more times. 

Those early days were a time when aboriginal candidates were a rarity on the ballot in North Battleford. It was that lack of participation, and representation, of aboriginal people in the political process that alarmed Fox when he first ran.

“It’s a little bit scary, you know, to think we’ve got the fastest-growing population in the age demographic of this country, certainly in and around here,” said Fox, and yet you didn’t see many in a decision-making capacity.

“It’s more the idea, if he can do it, maybe I can do it,” said Fox. Now, it isn’t unusual to see candidates of First Nations heritage on the ballot, something that Fox takes great satisfaction in seeing happen.

Now Fox is onto his next major project, having recently been nominated by the Liberals to run federally in Battlefords-Lloydminster in the coming federal election.

For Fox, his motivation for getting involved in politics is a simple one.

“A person gets tired of complaining, you know?” Fox said. “And you start to realize, you know, people ain’t listening. You actually have to go and show people what it is that you’re talking about.”