He helped form the National Indian Brotherhood and was the founding president of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.
He was instrumental in the creation of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and was nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes. But you won’t see George Manuel’s name in any high school text book.
His daughter, Doreen Manuel, is among those who would like to see that change.
Doreen Manuel recently co-authored and update to her father’s biography, Brother to Nationhood: George Manuel and the Making of the Modern Indian Movement, to address elements missing from the first edition those of the Indigenous warrior women in Manuel’s life.
In the book, lawyer Pam Palmater calls Manuel one of the greatest leaders of our time and argues his story should be taught in school curriculum.
Doreen believes having her father’s story told in school would help Indigenous youth form an identity and build them up to be leaders.
Doreen, who is a filmmaker and director of the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano University in north Vancouver, joined Host Dennis Ward on Face to Face on what would have been her father’s 100th birthday.
George Manuel is viewed as the strategist and visionary behind the modern Indigenous movement.
He was the second, national chief of the NIB from 1970 to 1976.
During that time, Manuel, a member of the Shuswap Nation of the Neskonlith Indian Band in British Columbia, was also meeting with Indigenous Peoples around the world while on a trip with then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Indian affairs minister, Jean Chretien.
Those meetings led to the formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, an internationally recognized body that fought for the rights and recognition of Indigenous Peoples around the globe.
Manuel was also working on the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, now known as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or UNDRIP.
UNDRIP legislation is currently before the House of Commons and in November of 2019, the province of British Columbia passed legislation to implement the UN Declaration.
In Doreen’s eyes, neither the BC legislation or the bill before the House of Commons lives ups to the original intent of UNDRIP.
“They’re not really passing anything,” says Doreen. “From my understanding, it’s a ‘this will be in effect as long as it falls in line with the laws that are already in place in British Columbia and in Canada.’ That’s not broadening anything.
“It’s just saying, ‘yeah, we’ll do it as long as it fits within what’s already happening. As long as it fits within our parameters and our laws.’ So there’s no nation to nation building there. It’s just them squishing in some wording that doesn’t really mean anything.”
Doreen says before her father passed away, he expressed concern about the future because his type of leadership was “a dying breed.
“When I look at the leadership out there today. There are far too many people supporting the pipelines and mining,” says Doreen. “There’s mining going on in reservations, people are dying up in Fort McMurray. The moose are riddled with disease and people are starving and they have to eat those moose and there’s a high rate of people getting sick from it. There’s so many communities across Canada that don’t have drinking water. There’s so many communities and so many people living in substandard conditions.
“Way back in the ‘60s, when Indigenous people were talking about whether or not they should take program funding or they should stay focused on Aboriginal title and rights, they wound up deciding to take program funding because they said their people were starving and their people were unemployed and they needed to get educated and the housing and all these reasons. So, they wound up taking the funding but really, we’re still starving, we’re still a lot of people who can’t go to school because there’s not enough education funding so it’s always just a few people from the communities that get to go. And then what happens is they go and leave the community, they get educated and because there’s no housing, they stay out there.”
While her father helped create what is now known as the Assembly of First Nations, Doreen believes there has been an erosion of the role of national chief in the eyes of the people.
It won’t happen before the election of a new AFN national chief this summer, but Doreen would like to see the whole organization revamped.
Doreen believes chiefs today hold too much power.
“I’d like to see them totally revamp the entire chieftainship in all communities, all across Canada,” says Doreen.
“A chief is supposed to be a spokesperson. When you examine Indigenous languages, I know for my Secwepemc language, chief doesn’t mean leader of all the people, it means spokesperson. Just the person who talks, that’s all. And it’s changed into something different now. Chiefs have a lot of power to make decisions without you. They can call votes and even if everybody votes no, they can turn around and still say yes.
“They hold too much power over the funding.”