Indigenous advocates, land defender recognized with inaugural Art Manuel Awards

Youth, an elder and Anishinaabekwe advocate are among the recipients of the first annual Art Manuel Awards.

The new bi-annual awards, announced Tuesday, honour of the legacy of the late Secwepemc leader and activist Arthur Manuel and recognizes “impactful Indigenous governance research or practices,” according to the awards’ webpage.

Coordinated by Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute, the awards have recognized the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), Grassy Narrows advocate Judy DaSilva and Tahltan Elder and land defender Rhoda Quock for their contributions to decolonization.

“We want to honour these grassroots individuals and movements, chosen by the jury, who are themselves growing the collective power of Indigenous peoples on these lands through their work,” Yellowhead Research Director Shiri Pasternak said in a press release Tuesday.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) was honoured with the top award, which carries a $5,000 prize, for their work not only in sexual and reproductive health but in the broader context of self-determination and decolonization.

NYSHN, which has a presence in Canada and the U.S., puts a “strong focus on re-invigorating traditional knowledge, practices and laws around sexuality, birth, gender, and parenting. Not only do they seek out knowledge from our histories, they interpret and translate this knowledge in a way that keeps it vibrant and alive,” Williamson said in Tuesday’s news release.

“By practicing and engaging in traditions, they are actively contributing to the maintenance of traditional governance practices.”

In a statement released with the awards announcement Tuesday NYSHN said it operates without core funding and relies on communities, grants and awards.

“We appreciate receiving this award in honor of Art Manuel’s legacy whose work focused so strongly on self-determination and our right to have sovereignty over our lives,” they wrote.

Grassy Narrows grandmother and advocate Judy da Silva and Tahltan Elder Rhoda Quock were also recognized with a $1,000 award each.

Judy da Silva was one of the recipients of the inaugural Art Manuel Awards. Photo courtesy Yellowhead Institute.

da Silva, who has advocated for her people and environmental protection amid decades of mercury poisoning in the Wabigoon-English River system stemming from the Reed Paper Mill, herself suffering from the effects of mercury poisoning.

She “has been a tireless defender of Indigenous rights, lands, waters and self-determination,” say her nominators, Paula Hill and Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Even when the provincial and federal governments turned their back on the community of Grassy Narrows for decades, she continued to advocate for social and ecological justice.”

Quock, a member of the Tahltan Nation’s wolf clan in northwestern B.C. and co-founder of the Kablona Keepers, “is the most inspirational indigenous land defender I know,” said Tamo Campos, Quock’s nominator.

“Her group was responsible for kicking out Royal Dutch Shell’s natural gas operations, Fortune Mineral’s coal mine and Firesteel’s copper drilling through blockades, organizing music festivals and using the media to showcase their struggle,” Campos writes.

Tahltan Elder Rhoda Quock co-founded the Kablona Keepers, a group of elders who have worked to keep unwanted extractive industries out of Tahltan territory. Photo courtesy Yellowhead Institute.

The Klabona Keepers are comprised of Tahltan elders and families who occupy traditional lands near Iskut also known as Tl’abāne, the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers, which are critical habitats for salmon, grizzly bears, wolves and caribou.

Pasternak, who was a friend of Manuel’s, said when the revered leader died in January 2017 “it felt like this vacuum had opened because he was the kind of leader who comes along once or twice in a century.

“Then as we all sat around trying to put our lives back together we realized that Art had planted hundreds of seeds in all of us with his ideas, and that there was no vacuum, there was just work to keep doing.”

The all-First Nation jury for the inaugural award included renowned scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Capilano University Professor (and sibling of Art Manuel) Doreen Manuel, and acclaimed environmentalist and Indigenous women’s rights advocate Melina Laboucan-Massimo.

The award is funded in part by Ryerson’s Department of Sociology and Faculty of Arts.

Pasternak said carrying Manuel’s legacy forward involves “an incredible commitment to Indigenous jurisdiction and a commitment to the people — putting them first and raising them up as the real carriers of Indigenous law and justice.”

Executive Producer / Ottawa

Justin Brake has French, Irish, British and Mi'kmaq roots and hails from Ktaqamkuk, Mi'kma'ki, or Newfoundland. He joined APTN News in 2017 and works from the Ottawa bureau as the executive producer for the eastern region.