Last year, former Grand Chief Billy Diamond was named a Dobson Fellow by the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at McGill University in Montreal.

However, due to a massive stroke he suffered in April 2008, Diamond was unable to attend the awards ceremony and was presented the honour at a later date.

The Dobson Centre recognizes that certain individuals have, over a meaningful period of time, made a significant contribution to the spirit of entrepreneurship. These Fellows lecture in Dobson courses, mentor students and act as impartial judges on the awarding of prizes.

David Lank, the director emeritus of the Dobson Centre and a former investment banker, has known Diamond for years and considers him a close friend.

“Of all the guests, I’ve had in my class, there are three who stand out and leave students stun with admiration and emotionally drained – and Billy is one of them.”

Watching Diamond speak about his experiences and insights to a roomful of international MBA students is a sight to behold, says Lank. “I cannot begin to tell you how important he is in forming the character of our future leaders when it comes to interacting with the students. These are MBA students, the best of the best, who are scary smart. Yet there’s not a dry seat in the house when Billy is finished.”

Diamond’s approach is simple – he just tells the story of his life. “He starts with being born in the bush and then being kidnapped as a young boy and taken to the residential schools. That little anecdote certainly proves that the winners write history books not the losers. He shares his school experiences with brutal candour – and it’s not exactly the official church version,” says Lank.

“He then speaks about how he was exposed to the white man and the white man’s racism. How he was kidnapped a second time away from an opportunity to go to university in order to become chief and eventually take on the governments of Quebec and Canada.

“And here he is in front of all these sophisticated students, who come from all over the world and already have business experience, and they are listening to him say, ‘Listen to the wind’ and ‘Talk to the rocks’. Wow! – that is not what you expect from a business administration course.”

Lank admires Diamond for what he has done for the Cree community and for all Aboriginals across Canada. “Very early on in his career, Billy realized he could never help his people if he only extended the clenched fist of confrontation. He had to open his hand in friendship. So he learned the white man’s law to use against the white man for the benefit of his own people. He learned how to negotiate. He learned how to talk. He learned how to listen. He learned how to cajole.”

One of the courses Lank teaches is called “Entrepreneurial Leadership”, in which he invites remarkable Canadians who are recognized leaders of their particular field. “My guests include Senator and former General Romeo Dallaire; astronaut and politician Marc Garneau; former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Yves Fortier; former prime minister Joe Clark; and Judge John Gomer, who headed the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.

“I get the cream of the cream – Canada’s greatest leaders and Billy Diamond is one of them. Out of all of those great leaders, the only one I have made a Dobson Fellow – which is the highest honour I can bestow – is Chief Billy Diamond.”

Despite his recent health issues, Diamond did not pass on his annual appearance at the Dobson Centre this spring, says Lank. “The day after he had the plates removed from his head, Billy was in my class sharing his story. That’s the kind of commitment he feels to future world leaders and to his own people.”