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Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis receives SFU Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award
Raised by his grandparents, SFU alumnus Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis was encouraged to learn the traditional ways of the land and of his Squamish culture, which teaches its young people to reciprocate any gifts they receive in life—such as education, career success and new perspectives—by giving back to the community.
The guiding principle is what drives Syeta’xtn’s commitment to helping SFU achieve its vision of a more equitable, diverse and inclusive tomorrow—an undertaking that he deems a “natural calling” because of all the tools and learnings he gained from his time at the university.
Now serving his third consecutive four-year term as elected councillor and spokesperson of the Squamish Nation, Syeta’xtn has served as deputy chair, and later chair, of the SFU Board of Governors, and was also co-chair of the university’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (SFU-ARC), which led to a set of actionable recommendations to enhance the university’s role in reconciliation.
To honour Syeta’xtn’s meaningful support and contributions to his alma mater, he will be presented with the 2021 SFU Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes an individual’s outstanding service to SFU and its community. Syeta’xtn joins the ranks of past recipients such as Parminder and Kamaljit Parhar of Renaissance Coffee, trail-blazing entomologist Thelma Finlayson and other distinguished community leaders.
“Syeta’xtn is an inspiring, community-focused leader who is passionate about collaboration, engagement, and creating a pathway forward for conversations around reconciliation work and Indigenous representation at the university,” says SFU Chancellor Tamara Vrooman. “We are so incredibly fortunate at Simon Fraser University for his time and dedication to knowledge sharing, ensuring that the institution is asking the right questions, and helping us move forward together.”
After graduating with his BA from SFU in 2005, Syeta’xtn joined the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and worked there for six years before landing his current role with the Squamish Nation Chiefs and Council. Although he originally dreamed of becoming an automotive technician in high school, it quickly became apparent that his calling was to play an influential role in Squamish leadership and advocacy.
“Going to SFU and learning about Indigenous history and discourse empowered me to pursue home leadership and a role in council so I could help change things for the better,” says Syeta’xtn, who was recognized on Vancouver Magazine’s “Power 50” list for his many contributions to the city. “This is why I’m so excited to continue the great work that the university has embarked upon.”
Outside of SFU, Syeta’xtn serves on several other community boards, including the Board of the N’chakay Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Squamish Nation, and the Coho Society of North Shore, which supports salmon preservation. He is also a founding member of the MST Development Corporation, a historic partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation that focuses on their kinship ties and shared territories, as well as a member of the North Shore Indian Lacrosse Society, which he credits for grooming future Indigenous leaders like himself.
“It has been an absolute privilege and honour to serve the university, where I was able to bring back many tools to my community,” says Syeta’xtn. “Being on the board meant that I could ensure that the Indigenous perspective was being heard and represented, while giving back to an institution that also gave me so much.”
“More importantly, my involvement with SFU showcases to the younger generation that we can occupy rooms and tables like this, and that as Indigenous peoples, we must.”