Vancouver Sun

George Manuel,  president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, in 1978. Dan Scott/Vancouver Sun.

George Manuel, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, in 1978

 

“The land from which our culture springs is like the water and the air, one and indivisible. … This is not the land that can be speculated, bought, sold, mortgaged, claimed by one state, surrendered or counter-claimed by another.”

Those lines are from The Fourth World written by George Manuel. Manuel was an elected chief of the Neskonlith Band near Chase in the Interior of B.C. and a hereditary chief of the Secwepemc (Shuswap). Manuel’s work on behalf of aboriginal people inspired a generation of indigenous leaders.

Manuel’s book, subtitled An Indian Reality, and co-written with Michael Posluns, explored the struggle of native people to survive, and promoted the idea of indigenous people as the “Fourth World”. Manuel argued that a “new order” was needed so that aboriginal people and Europeans could live together without destroying each other.

“It must be remembered that we have not lived as free women and men in the past hundred years,” Manuel wrote in B.C. Indian World 6 in the early 1980s. “We have only survived within a prison of deprivation, poverty and genocide. For too long now we have accepted freedom as a gift and that always produces berries with poison in it.”

Manuel was born in 1921 and attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. At age 12, he developed tuberculosis and was sent to a hospital on the Sto:lo reserve near Chilliwack.

After working at a number of jobs, including logging, he started a political career with the goal of uniting indigenous people. In 1969, prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s White Paper on Indian Policy sparked a national movement whose leaders included Manuel. Trudeau proposed to assimilate native people by measures that included eliminating “Indian” as a legal status, dismantling the Department of Indian Affairs, and eradicating all treaties between First Nations and Canada.

In 1970, Manuel became national chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, now called the Assembly of First Nations.

Manuel always linked the struggles of indigenous people in Canada with struggles in other countries and continents.

His travels took him around the world, including Tanzania, where he met president and statesman Julius Nyerere. He told Manuel that indigenous people would have to organize themselves to achieve their goals. By doing so, Nyerere said, the original people of Canada would become the Fourth World and unite with indigenous people around the globe.

As president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Manuel worked on the 4,800-kilometre train journey across the country known as the Indian Constitution Express. It was successful in ensuring that aboriginal rights were enshrined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.