Arthur Manuel | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Arthur Manuel

Arthur Manuel, Secwépemc leader, author (born 3 September 1951 in Kamloops, BC; died 11 January 2017). Arthur Manuel was a Secwépemc leader who advocated for Indigenous Rights in Canada and around the world. Manuel was a bestselling author, president of the Native Youth Association, Chief of Neskonlith Indian Band, chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade and co-chair of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Arthur Manuel

Early Years

Arthur Manuel was born in 1951 in the Secwépemc (Shuswap) territory. His father, George Manuel, was of the Secwépemc Nation and his mother, Marceline (née Paul), was of the Ktunaxa Nation. He grew up a member of the Neskonlith Indian Band. The Neskonlith Indian Band is one of 17 First Nations in the large Secwépemc territory in south-central British Columbia (see also First Nations in British Columbia). His father served as Chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band, president of the North American Indian Brotherhood of British Columbia, president of the National Indian Brotherhood (later the Assembly of First Nations) and was instrumental in initiating the World Council of Indigenous People.

Manuel survived discrimination and indignities in the residential schools he attended in Kamloops, Cranbrook and Mission. When home one summer, he was arrested for riding a railcar. He was unable to pay the $25 fine. As a result, he served 30 days in the adult Spy Hill Jail. He later said the prison food was better than at his residential school.

Manuel attended Concordia University in Montreal.


In 1972, Arthur Manuel was elected president of the national Native Youth Association. In August 1973, he led 350 young Indigenous activists who occupied the Indian Affairs Building in Ottawa. He kept his promise to Ottawa police and left after 24 hours. However, he took several files that he gave to the National Indian Brotherhood. They provided details regarding Indian Affairs activities (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). Shortly afterward, as he had warned his followers, all federal funding of the national Native Youth Association ended.

Following the occupation, he returned home and married Beverly Dick. Together, they ran a gas station and had five children. Later, he attended, but did not complete, a program at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

In the 1990s, Manuel returned to public life. He was elected Chief of Neskonlith Indian Band four times (1995–2003) and chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council three times (1997–2003). He worked for acceptance of the idea that all challenges facing Indigenous Peoples are related to land ownership. He argued that there was no avenue out of widespread poverty if Indigenous Peoples continued to own only 0.2 per cent of the land.

Manuel was also involved in international organizations. He became a spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade in 2003. He helped organize and publicize activities in numerous countries to bring justice to Indigenous Peoples. In 2013, he co-chaired the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He was co-chair of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus in 2012. At the United Nations, he argued against the Doctrine of Discovery that had been used by churches and colonizing countries to justify their occupation of Indigenous lands. In each capacity, he worked to have governments and corporations recognize the legitimacy of Indigenous Treaty Rights and Land Titles (see also Aboriginal Title; Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada; Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada).

In 2012, Manuel applauded the Idle No More movement as essential in the advancement of Indigenous Rights. He said, “The establishment organizations have reached their full capacity in terms of their ability to make any fundamental change in this country.”


Arthur Manuel and Ronald Derrickson wrote Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-up Call. It became a national bestseller and won the 2016 Canadian Historical Association Aboriginal History Book Prize. It outlined the struggle for Indigenous Rights over the previous 50 years and argued that celebrating justice for Indigenous Peoples is in every Canadian’s self-interest.

In 2017, Manuel and Derrickson published The Reconciliation Manifesto. It contended that efforts at reconciliation were failing because the federal and provincial governments were adhering to old colonial attitudes and processes in their negotiations and relationships with Indigenous Peoples.


Arthur Manuel died of congestive heart failure on 11 January 2017. He was 65. Manuel was survived by his spouse, Nicole Schabus, four of his children, and nine grandchildren. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs summarized the thoughts of many in observing, “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.”