Secwepemc chief, First Nations leader and activist Arthur Manuel has died at 66, after a lifetime of standing up for indigenous rights in B.C., Canada and around the world.
The author of “Unsettling Canada: a National Wake Up Call,” Manuel visited Bella Coola in 2015 for film screening of Naomi Klein’s latest documentary, “This Changes Everything.” Klein, who wrote the forward of Manuel’s book, called him a “beautiful soul and an intellectual giant.”
“He helped generations of organizers and theorists to understand how Indigenous land rights, if truly respected, hold tremendous power to create a more caring and generous society,” and Klein, “and they are our only hope of protecting the planet from ecocide.”
Manuel was gifted a button blanket by the Nuxalk Nation and created many friendships wherever he went.
He was the son of the late George Manuel, who founded the National Indian Brotherhood — precursor to the Assembly of First Nations. Arthur Manuel entered the world of Indigenous politics in the 1970s, as president of the Native Youth Association.
He went on to serve as chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band near Chase, B.C., and elected chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council but was also active in the Assembly of First Nations. Recently, he was a spokesman for Defenders of the Land, an organization dedicated to environmental justice.
His death brought an outpouring of tributes, including one from B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who in a statement called Mr. Manuel a “steadfast, courageous champion for Indigenous people across Canada.”
For decades, Mr. Manuel pushed governments and international bodies such as the United Nations to pay more attention to indigenous concerns when it came to trade agreements or events such as the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
“Arthur Manuel represented a very powerful force and presence in regard to our ongoing struggle to seek a full measure of justice in relation to indigenous land rights and human rights,” said Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“He was a champion of our rights to self-determination – and rejected any notion that we should be required to extinguish or diminish or modify our rights in an effort to seek any measure of recognition from the government of Canada or the province of B.C.,” he added.
“He never took a step backwards.”