Art Battiste has been a community dynamo ever since 1995, throwing himself particularly into seniors’ issues. Yet his community service, at levels from provincial to federal, has been a constant in his adult life.
Battiste was a civil servant from 1967 to 1991, hired first by the Saskatchewan government, then by the Nova Scotia government, and then by the Secretary of State’s department in Ottawa.
“You were a servant of the government of the day,” said Battiste, who enjoyed his roles and worked for many influential Canadians even though “senior civil servants were order-in-council appointments hired, or perhaps fired, at the pleasure of the government in power.”
In Saskatchewan, he was a civil servant in the days when Ross Thatcher, Alan Blakeney and Grant Devine were premiers and later a consultant for Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. He worked in Ottawa when Pierre Trudeau was in power, then Joe Clark and back again into Trudeau days.
In 1995, he and his family settled back in Saskatoon. Since then, Battiste has been active in the community, spurred mostly by desires to preach cancer survival, senior fitness and continuing education for seniors.
“My wife, Angela, recognized that both my age and the size of my waistline were advancing and she talked me into going to a fitness class at Lakewood. I began working out on the machines and it was good,” said Battiste.
“Then in April 2012, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I went into surgery on Aug. 31. The operation went well, no complications, no side effects and no need for chemo or radiation. I went back to Lakewood and one day, I saw a poster in the wall, advertising the benefits of joining the Saskatchewan Senior Fitness Association. I joined.
“I had some earlier experiences in track and field. With the help of Margaret Tosh and Brian Berquist and the encouragement of Judy Warick, I got involved again. I’ve competed in 26 events, indoors and outdoors, in the last two years and my first outdoor meet of the new season will be in Regina on May 6,” he said.
He specializes in the throwing events. He holds Saskatchewan records for the 70-to-74 masters age group in indoor shot put and weight throws, and in outdoor shot put and discus. He also holds the provincial and national records in discus, javelin and shot put in his age class.
With a cancer support group, he gets three or four calls a month from families “who have a member seemingly at wit’s ends. Often they are in shock. I try to explain where the cancer trip will take them and about the prospects of happy results afterwards. They really can look ahead to where the rest of their lives will be as good, if not better, than it was at the time of diagnosis.”
As a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Battiste was a little upset when there was talk of cancelling the non-credit course for seniors at the University of Saskatchewan three years ago.
“For 30 years, it had been an amazing experience for seniors to go back and take classes. Not long ago, there was a membership of 300 taking a dozen courses. It was something too good to lose. Thanks to the efforts of Gordon Barnhart, the interim president, and vice-provost Patti McDougall and the persistence of Saskatoon Seniors Continued Learning Inc., the programs were pulled out of the fire. I’ve been program manager for two and a half years and we now have 400 taking 22 courses.”
Battiste also has strong connections with St. Thomas More College and has served the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Canadian Library Trustees, the United Way, Saskatchewan Aerospace and Sage Hill Writing Experience in various ways.
These commitments come from an individual who didn’t move to Saskatoon until 1954 when he was 12 years old. He and his brother, Don, and two sisters, Camille and Barbara, were all born in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Their father, Charles, was an executive with the Potash Corporation of America when he was moved to Saskatoon in 1954 to become operations manager at the Patience Lake plant east of the city on Eighth Street. It was the first potash plant with a presence in Saskatchewan, later the first one to shut down.
His father retired in 1974. In younger days, Charles Battiste was a baseball pitcher who once faced Satchel Paige and Grover Cleveland Alexander, both long-ago heroes, when teams barnstormed through New Mexico.
Battiste said his parents, Charles and Phyllis, were “the most honest, hard-working, loving people you could ever meet.”
Battiste played football and basketball at St. Paul’s High School, from which he graduated in 1960.
“It took a couple of years before we won a football game,” he said. “In basketball, it was different. In 1960, we won all of our games, except one at the Luther Invitational and one in the provincial final.”
He received his Bachelor of Arts and an education diploma from the U of S in 1966 and spent two years teaching in Saskatoon Catholic schools.
As a civil servant, his roles were varied. He was often a deputy minister. He worked in tourism, culture and aboriginal affairs ministries. With the federal government, he was a manager and director general in regional development and cultural departments.
After the Canadian constitution was reworked in 1968, there was a strong protest from the Indigenous people who hadn’t been invited to participate. He was a lead civil servant for three years that led to an Aboriginal constitutional conference. Out of it came a recognition and affirmation of the rights of Métis, Indian and Inuit people.
“Watching Pierre Trudeau, René Levesque and Peter Lougheed in action was absolutely a fascinating experience.”
He had served in aboriginal affairs in Saskatchewan, often working in the North.
“In the days when I was a civil servant, it was a different time. In the North, they didn’t have schools and hospitals. They also didn’t have the arrival of drugs and the gang violence as much. The argument has always been that the Aboriginals lost the right to use the lands and lost their freedom. To them, that was a terrible thing. For their people, they were forced to live on reserves and be wards of the state.
“Some conditions have changed since then. There are positive signs. The Métis, at one time, didn’t have any support from any level of government. It was a case of sink or swim. Now all First Nations people are well-represented on the U of S campus and they are producing doctors, lawyers and professionals.”
He and Angela, who was a library specialist, have just celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of four children: Gabrielle, Katherine, Shaun and Christopher.