Honorary Diplomas awarded to outstanding community leaders

May 19, 2023

Honorary Diplomas awarded to outstanding community leaders

Internationally renowned lawyer Chief Wilton Littlechild and community leaders Blaine LaBonte and Irene Mertz LaBonte have received Honorary Diplomas from NorQuest College in recognition of their extraordinary achievements.

NorQuest presented the Honorary Diplomas at the college’s annual convocation ceremonies on May 17, 2023. Chief Littlechild was awarded the Community Services Leadership diploma, while Blaine LaBonte and Irene Mertz LaBonte were recognized for Business Leadership. All of the recipients personify community spirit and serve as an inspiration to NorQuest learners and employees.

Chief Wilton Littlechild has exemplified tremendous leadership throughout his career as an exceptional lawyer, respected elected official, and accomplished athlete.

Chief Littlechild is a Cree and the former Grand Chief of Treaty No. 6, with five Honorary Doctor of Laws. He was the first Alberta Treaty First Nation person to receive a Master’s Degree in Law from the University of Alberta, at a time when there were only three lawyers of Indigenous descent in Canada. As a lawyer, Littlechild is known as a pioneer for the global Indigenous rights movement and has worked with the United Nations for more than 45 years. He has worked tirelessly to promote human rights, in particular those of Indigenous peoples all over the world. 

Chief Littlechild’s commitment to people and the community is reflected in the many honours he has received during his career. He was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999. He has been awarded Queen’s Counsel and Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel, the highest honours of the legal profession. He received the Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012 and is also a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence.

“To be selected as a recipient of an Honorary Diploma from NorQuest is truly humbling yet one of pride,” says Chief Littlechild. “Personally, as we approach an era that calls on us to work together on a path to reconciliation, I see a brighter future. In that spirit, a very sincere thank you – ninanaskomon – to all involved at NorQuest College for this great honour.”

Blaine LaBonte and Irene Mertz LaBonte have a passion for building, whether it is business or community.

When Blaine joined Cougar Drilling Solutions in 1992, few realized he’d eventually become the owner and president of Cougar and transform a family-run Canadian firm into an international oilfield services provider. He sold the company to international investors in 2019. 

The daughter of Hungarian refugees, Irene was raised in Redwater, Alberta, where she grew up on the family farm. After graduating from NAIT, she worked in public health for many years before becoming the Director of Community Engagement at Cougar Drilling Solutions. Irene’s background has given her a unique perspective on public health, sustainable practices, and community engagement. She continues to be actively involved in the community and committed to making a positive impact.

After the sale of Cougar, Blaine and Irene decided to increase their efforts to help others and build communities. Both have spent years focused on personal and professional growth for themselves and others. Blaine and Irene continue to make community connections and investments towards education, health, and social impact.

Blaine and Irene are long-time friends of NorQuest, having supported the college with multiple donations over the years. In 2018, Blaine and Irene honoured NorQuest College with the largest planned gift in its history, naming the college as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

“Receiving an Honourary Diploma from NorQuest is such a great distinction,” says Blaine. “We’ve always enjoyed supporting NorQuest, so this feels like we’re really part of the spirit of the college. NorQuest has created a lot of leaders, so to be recognized like this by the college is something for which we will always be grateful.”

Honorary Diploma nominations

NorQuest College faculty, staff, board, and community members are eligible to nominate a deserving individual for a Honorary Diploma. Nominations are open year round. Please visit our Honorary Diploma webpage for more information and to make a nomination.