Arthur Manuel was undoubtedly one of the most committed and passionate and strong and inspiring Indigenous leaders of our time. I remember a talk that I was moderating that Art was a speaker on and someone else before him was describing three generations of Indigenous struggles. When Art spoke he said “So all these three generations you were talking about, I was part of all of those” as he went on to recount his forty plus years of unwavering efforts to challenge Canada at every level.
He was received, as he often is, with a standing ovation and a burning fire in everyone’s bellies.
When people ask me about law school, I say that I learnt more from Art than any class I attended. What (little) I do know about injuctions, trespass, criminal contempt, section 35, Sparrow, Calder, Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot’in is from Art. Like many others, I turn to Art’s words and cite him (including his trail blazing book Unsettling Canada) when it comes to understanding the scope of settler colonization and land theft.
His voice and clarity of vision is unparalleled, especially for settlers like me to heed.
When people ask me about burnt out in the movement, I recount the countless times I spent with Art in the middle of the night or early morning when he was passing through town on his way on the road in his truck for the next thirty hours straight to a community he had been invited to to speak about Rights and Title, the UN, the Treaty Process.
And when I would ask Art about if he ever got tired, he would say “when I get tired, I sleep. And then I get up and fucking fight for my land back.”
When people ask me about solidarity and alliances, I think of Art making so much time and room in his heart to listen to struggles of marginalized peoples resisting everywhere. He made so many trips into the city to attend gatherings in the downtown eastside, migrant and refugee community meetings, meetings in labour halls, and most especially with Indigenous peoples worldwide fighting extraction.
Art was also uncompromising and relentless, being a thorn in so many peoples side and yet winning everyone’s respect for his unwavering dedication.
When people ask me about intergenerational movement organizing, I speak about Art and how he patiently took me under his wing when i was an eager clueless (still am) twenty year old and so generously invited me into his whirlwind world of archives, maps, maze of policies and laws from the UN to WTO.
I think of the tremendous lineage of the whole Manuel family and what intergenerational legacies of resistance look and feel like, in the everyday teachings shared around kitchen tables that I’ve had the honour of joining at times.
Art was a leader and a mentor, and also a wonderful and generous and kind friend – he came for almost every cheesy birthday bash, when he drove through town every few weeks we’d go to his favourite Chinese restaurant (and sometimes if i could convince him to go to Green Lettuce :), he insisted on being our unofficial wedding photographer, he gave my baby her first basket that she slept in.
When things were hard in life, I would wake up to short late nite texts “Hang in there” or a personal favourite “Knock knock. Whose there? Hug”
All my love and prayers go out to Art’s family, his siblings, his children, his beloved grandchildren whom he absolutely loved sharing photos and antecodes of, the Secwepemc nation, and all those who held him close and were touched by his fire and heart. Art was a brilliant visionary, an inspiring leader, a mentor, teacher and a most generous friend. He is irreplaceable and it will take all of us to fulfill his consistent and clear vision of Indigenous self-determination and nationhood. As an ancestor, Art will continue to guide and lead us.
Rest well friend, rab rakha.
Arthur Manuel was loved and respected by many including my friend journalist Haider Rizvi, who came to know Art while working at the UN and whose accidental death in 2015 i haven’t mourned yet.