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The Piikani Nation - Profiles: Chester Cunningham

Chester Cunningham

Dr. Chester Cunningham is a humanitarian and educator whose passion about justice and equality has improved the quality of life for Aboriginal Peoples in Alberta, across Canada, and around the world.

In 1970, Chester Cunningham launched his own personal operation to bring about transformation, communication, and cultural understanding among the judicial and native communities. He was the founder and executive director of Native Courtworker Services, subsequently called Native Counseling Services of Alberta. From 1970 to 1997, this agency grew from four courtworkers to more than 150 employees that served all of Alberta. Within its first five years, the NCSA set new standards when the number of Aboriginal provincial inmates dropped from 56 percent to 28 percent. For his remarkable success, Dr. Cunningham drew inspiration from traditional ways of the native community, and he involved Elders whenever possible. A strong communicator, he negotiated fairly with both government bodies and native agencies, while maintaining the best interests of each group.

Under Native Counseling Services of Alberta, Chester Cunningham changed the life of thousands. Beginning in the mid 1970s, NCSA continuously moved forward to meet the needs of the Aboriginal People; the agency has evolved from a court worker program to an agency participating in all aspects of social justice for Aboriginal People. The NCSA enforces the “contribution to the holistic development and wellness of the Aboriginal individual, family, and community.”

Chester Cunningham is a founding member of the St. Albert Lion’s Breakfast Club and the Native Credit Union. He shares his knowledge and spirit with the community by sitting on numerous boards and committees including the National Parole Board, Boyle Street Co-op, John Howard Society, Alberta Native Communication Society, Canadian Native Friendship Centre, Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, Consulting Committee on Young Offender’s Act, Canadian Advisory Committee – Justice and Corrections, and a committee for the Ministry of Children’s Services.

In recognition of his devotion and determination, Chester Cunningham has received many awards and honours. A few of these include a Queen’s Medal for Achievement, Honourary Chief of the Peigan Tribe, the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Alberta Achievement Award, a medallion from Prince Charles at Treaty 7 celebrations, and a lifetime membership for the Canadian Native Friendship Centre. The Aboriginal Students Council at the University of Alberta also recognized Dr. Cunningham for his contributions to the Native community and for his influence as a strong role model. In 1989, Chester Cunningham received a honourary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta for his contributions to the correctional system. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1993.

Chester Cunningham’s contributions to Alberta, Canada, and the world have made a tremendous difference among the judicial and native communities.  It is important in today’s culture, that there are those people—like Chester—who strive for both human well-being and excellence.

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