Rights activist and former B.C. chief Arthur Manuel dead at 66

B.C. chief, indigenous rights advocate dies

VANCOUVER — A British Columbia chief and champion of indigenous rights is being remembered for his activism on Canada’s land-claim policies and environmental efforts.

A statement from the family of Arthur Manuel says he died peacefully on Wednesday night surrounded by loved ones. 

Manuel, who was 66, served for many years as chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band in B.C.’s Interior and was a member of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

He also served as chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and as leader and spokesman of the Interior Alliance.

His family says he was born in the struggle of his people and groomed to be a leader and defender of indigenous rights.

A survivor of the residential school system, Manuel went on to complete degrees at Concordia University in Montreal and Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip called Manuel one of the country’s strongest and most outspoken indigenous leaders.

Manuel travelled across Canada and around the world in an unwavering effort to advocate for indigenous people, Phillip said in a statement.

His legacy will continue to be felt for generations to come, Phillip said.

Manuel co-authored the book “Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call” chronicling the modern struggle for indigenous rights and titles and laying out a plan for a new, sustainable indigenous economy.

Author and social activist Naomi Klein, who wrote the forward for the book, called Manuel “a beautiful soul and an intellectual giant.”

A friend of Manuel for two decades, Klein said he informed her view of Canada and the world.

In a statement, Klein said Manuel influenced generations of environmental organizers and theorists by helping them understand that honouring indigenous land rights can in turn protect the environment.

She said she had seen him most recently at protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota in December.

But his focus was on environmental issues closer to home.

Klein said Manuel spent his final months organizing efforts to stop the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline which crosses Shuswap territory.

“He helped to lead our movements, and protect the land and water, until his final breath,” Klein said.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark also issued a statement acknowledging Manuel’s legacy of activism and leadership.

She said history would remember Manuel “as one of the first and most-effective advocates of lasting reconciliation.”

His cause of death has not been disclosed.

Manuel is survived by his life partner, Nicole Schabus, by his sisters and brothers, and by his children, Kanahus, Mayuk, Ska7cis and Snutetkwe.

A wake is being arranged for Friday and Saturday at the Adams Lake Indian Band gymnasium in Chase, B.C. A funeral service will be held on Jan. 15.

The Canadian Press

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