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Indigenous leader and land defender Arthur Manuel dies in B.C.

Former Neskonlith First Nation chief and founder of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade came from a family of Secwepemc nation defenders.

Arthur Manuel, left, joined the Standing Rock Sioux encampment against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 with his daughter Kanahus Manuel, right.

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Arthur Manuel, left, joined the Standing Rock Sioux encampment against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 with his daughter Kanahus Manuel, right.

Arthur Manuel, a long-time outspoken indigenous leader in British Columbia, has died at age 65.

The former chief of Neskonlith First Nation near Merritt, and former elected head of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, founded the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade and was one of the leading critics of Canada's policies towards First Nations.

His father, Grand Chief George Manuel — co-founder and former president of the National Indian Brotherhood, which became the Assembly of First Nations — is considered one of the most influential indigenous leaders in B.C.'s history.

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Manuel died on Wednesday, but Metro could not immediate confirm what caused his death.

"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," the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said in a statement Thursday. "We are so profoundly grateful for Arthur's many sacrifices and contributions to our ongoing struggles to seek a full measure of justice for our indigenous peoples.

"Arthur's legacy will continue to reverberate throughout our ongoing indigenous history for many, many generations to come."

Most recently, the veteran leader in the Secwepemc nation joined the Standing Rock Sioux encampment in the U.S., which faced police rubber bullets and water cannons before halting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last year, he co-authored the book Unsettling Canada: A National Wake Up Call.

Manuel was from a family of indigenous activists. His father, George Manuel, was president of the National Indian Brotherhood and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Manuel's sister is renowned indigenous filmmaker Doreen Manuel, who teaches and coordinates the Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking program at Capilano University.

And his daughter Kanahus Manuel is herself a leading figure in Secwepemc activism — particularly after the Imperial Metals tailings pond collapse at Mount Polley Mine.

Outpourings of support flowed in from other indigenous leaders across B.C. on Thursday. Former three-term Tahltan Nation president Annita McPhee posted on her Facebook wall that the indigenous community "lost a warrior" in Manuel's passing.

"You were a true warrior of our rights and title and I was so blessed to have known you," she wrote. "You were so inspirational, humble and so strong. I was so proud listening to you. You didn't act like we had rights and title, you lived it."

For Wet'suwet'en land defender and hereditary chief Toghestiy — also known as Warner Naziel — Manuel was a source of guidance to younger generations of indigenous people looking to protect their traditional territories.

"He picked up his late father George Manuel's indigenous rights torch and carried it proudly throughout the world," he said on Facebook. "He leaves behind a family of warriors who will continue to do the same. I will miss our conversations and his guidance."

Manuel was seldom in the mainstream news headlines, but was renowned in First Nations circles and amongst non-indigenous environmental advocates alike. Roughly a decade ago, he co-founded a national network, Defenders of the Land.

"I learned so much from Arthur Manuel," wrote Tzeporah Berman, co-founder of ForestEthics (since renamed STAND) and author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge, in a Facebook post. "A great, kind, gentle yet fierce leader … So sad. He will be missed by many."

For Alberta oil sands critic Crystal Lameman, of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Manuel "epitomized what it meant to be a warrior, a man for his people and his family," she said in a Facebook post.

"The indigenous rights movement lost a pillar, a man who upheld what it means to be resistance, to live the struggle, and to never give up," Lameman said. "… He is a brave reminder of forgiveness, determination, love and perseverance."

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