(Indigenous leader, activist, author Arthur Manuel – Photo courtesy: idlenomore.ca)
APTN National News
Doreen Manuel stood by the hospital room door, held a pipe close to her chest and sang the Water Wave song in the Ktunaxa language as medical staff fought to keep her brother Arthur Manuel alive.
Arthur Manuel’s heart, which stopped briefly, began to beat again.
“I closed my eyes, held my pipe to my chest and I just sang that song, it just came to me to sing that,” said Doreen Manuel. “And after, when he came back, when they got a heartbeat, I rested a bit and the next song that came to me was our mother’s song. She told us to sing that song whenever we needed her.”
For the next seven hours Arthur Manuel held on, long enough for most of his family to arrive and gather by his side, including four of his children.
“When he went, he was surrounded by medicine people, his children, his family,” said Doreen Manuel. “We sang him out in a dignified traditional way and it was beautiful. One of the things I am grateful for is that our culture is that much alive that we were able to do that for him.”
Arthur Manuel died at 10:57 p.m. local time Wednesday at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, B.C.
He was 66.
The son of George Manuel, former national chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, Arthur Manuel’s life has been defined by politics and the struggle for the assertion of Indigenous rights, locally, nationally and internationally.
Manuel was chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band, chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, leader with the Interior Alliance and a member of the Union of B.C. Indian Chief’s (UBCIC) Chief Council.
“He served our community for many years,” said Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Judy Wilson. “And he continued to work as a grassroots leader. He worked with the people on human rights and Indigenous rights and land claims. Arthur had an unbelievable devotion and commitment to his people, first and foremost, and always spoke about the next generation and ensuring that Mother Earth wasn’t destroyed, that the water wasn’t impacted, so the next generation would have something and be able to sustain themselves.”
Wilson said Manuel’s politics, in his last years, was driven by the love of his grandchildren.
“I think that his devotion to his grandchildren spoke for that. He was very caring, but he had a very strong fundamental belief in protecting Mother Earth and not taking more than we need from Mother Earth,” said Wilson.
“There is nobody that can fill his shoes. He is irreplaceable and you can’t duplicate him, not for everything that he did, his knowledge, his skills, his humour,” said close friend Russ Diabo. “It creates a big gap for Indigenous peoples in Canada, Internationally and locally.”
Internationally renowned writer Naomi Klein said in a statement Manuel changed the way she saw “the country and the world” over their two decade-long friendship.
“Arthur Manuel was 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 they are our only hope of protecting the planet from ecocide,” said Klein, in the statement. “The final months of Arthur’s life were focused on furiously organizing to stop the reckless expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which crosses Secwepemc territory and imperils its water. He helped to lead our movements, and protect the land and water, until his final breath.”
Arthur Manuel was a giant who's presence change the world. My families deepest condolences to the Manuel Family. pic.twitter.com/memKhbpSlD
— Clayton ThomasMuller (@CreeClayton) January 12, 2017
News of Manuel’s death caught even his closest friends by surprise.
Wilson said her community was “shocked” by the suddenness of Manuel’s death.
“It seemed very untimely,” said Wilson.
“Arthur Manuel’s death came as a complete shock to me,” said Diabo. “I had hoped he would recover.”
News of his death spread widely on social media.
“This is very sad news. Art was a true force for change,” tweeted NDP MP Charlie Angus. “He was a powerful voice for Indigenous rights on the international scene.”
“Arthur Manuel was a giant whose presence changed the world,” tweeted Indigenous rights activist Clayton Thomas-Muller. “My deepest condolences to the Manuel family.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde released a statement praising Manuel’s commitment to the struggle of Indigenous rights.
“An outspoken advocate for First Nations rights in Canada and Indigenous rights around the world, he worked tirelessly to ensure the reality of life for First Nations in Canada was understood and that the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples around the world were respected and upheld by the international community,” said Bellegarde, in the statement.
“Arthur Manuel was, without question, one of Canada’s strongest and most outspoken Indigenous leaders in the defense of our Indigenous land and human rights,” said the UBCIC, in a statement. “He relentlessly worked on land claim issues, calling for change to Canada’s fundamental flawed policy on Indigenous land claims.”
In his book, Unsettling Canada, Manuel said he began “challenging the unacceptable treatment of my people” while he was a teenager at St. Mary’s Indian residential school in Mission, B.C.
Sick of the sub-par food served at the school, which was worse than the grub he was forced to eat while in a Calgary jail serving a sentence for train-hopping, Manuel began to agitate for a food strike.
“But even then, I understood instinctively that his simple injustice, of feeding Indian kids food below the standards that you feed jail inmates, was a symbol of—and very much part of—the vast system that placed my people at the bottom of the heap in Canadian society,” he wrote.
While he managed to draw in some supporters for the strike, Manuel wrote he felt he needed additional support, and his next move would bring him eye-to-eye with an operative for a clandestine network.
“I wrote to an organization, the Native Alliance for Red Power (NARP), that I’d read about in the Star Weekly Magazine,” wrote Manuel. “For a long while, I heard nothing…. (Then) I was told by another student that I was to show up at the school clinic for an eye exam….I couldn’t imagine why the eye examiner would insist on seeing me. When I arrived at the clinic, the Sto:lo Indian eye technician, who I came to know as Wayne Bobb, held the sides of my head, looked into my eyes, and said quietly, ‘Don’t say anything, just listen. I’m from NARP. We received your letter. We support you.’”
It was the beginning of a long political career that ranged from the chief’s office, to the grassroots resistance camp—Manuel visited the Oceti Sakowin camp by Standing Rock last autumn.
“In many ways, I was both lucky and unlucky to grow up in a family that was devoted to the struggle for our people,” wrote Manuel, in Unsettling Canada. “Lucky in the sense that I often had a front-row seat in the political theatre of my father’s generation, and witnessed their often single-minded determination to advance the cause of our Aboriginal title and treaty rights.”
The unlucky part came with the hardships that a political life would inflict on his parents in those days, wrote Manuel.
“They lived in a hostile world. They weren’t welcome in the town and, in their youth, had been explicitly excluded from the life there,” wrote Manuel. “These challenges were compounded by the fact they were both physically disabled at time when disabled people were routinely mocked and ridiculed.”
Diabo said Manuel carried on the political legacy of his family.
“He comes from an important family in B.C., from the Secwepemc Nation, and he carried on the tradition of his father and his brother and sister who preceded him, Bobby and Vera,” said Diabo.
Manuel’s death, caused by congestive heart failure, crept up on him.
Doreen Manuel said her brother began to feel sick in November. He started to cough.
“He didn’t know himself. He thought it was a flu or a cold, but it was early signs of congestive heart failure,” said Doreen Manuel. “One of the problems in our Aboriginal communities is that a lot of people don’t have regular family doctors to follow our health. If he had been seeing a regular family doctor for his cough instead of going to the clinic, the doctor may have thought it was congestive heart failure.”
But it wasn’t caught until last Thursday, and it was too late, she said.
“By that time, he was in the hospital, having trouble breathing,” said Doreen Manuel. “It started last Thursday and we have been at the hospital ever since.”
Arthur Manuel was on a respirator in his last days.
For now, it is the time of grieving, and the traveling of family and friends to the Adams Lake Indian band gymnasium for the wake and services planned from Jan. 13 to 15.
“We are all really distressed,” said Doreen Manuel.
“He was like my brother,” said Diabo. “Now the work will have to fall to other people.”