This story was originally written by Cara McKenna for our sister outlet, IndigiNews.
Kanahus Manuel was just 13 when her grandfather George Manuel passed away in 1989 — but his lasting impact on her life has been profound.
“I pretty well live my life in existence to his legacy,” she shared.
“And fighting for our Aboriginal title and rights, fighting for our Secwépemc title and rights — that’s what I live and breathe.”
Kanahus was part of a group of relatives, friends and admirers of George Manuel who gathered at Tsleil-Waututh Nation on Monday to witness the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp in tribute to the beloved leader.
The commemorative stamp — which features a 1970s image of Manuel peering out from under a pair of stylish glasses — is being issued as part of an Indigenous Leaders stamp series which started in 2022.
During the unveiling, people spoke about how much of a difference Manuel had made in their lives personally and to the Indigenous rights movement at large.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs recalled how he first met Manuel as a young man, and became inspired by his powerful presence and speaking ability.
“He was such a dynamic speaker and such an inspirational leader, and those kinds of leaders, throughout world history, get things done and motivate people to stand up to speak up,” he said.
“And that’s what George did.”
He remembered attending a meeting with Manuel where they faced down the B.C. Wildlife Federation in a room “just packed with rednecks, hunters, ranchers, loggers” — and how Manuel matter-of-factly asserted Indigenous hunting and fishing rights to them.
“And they were so taken aback that when that session was over, you couldn’t get near George,” he said. “All of those people came up around him and were shaking his hand.”
A lasting legacy
Manuel, a member of Neskonlith Indian Band, had a four-decade-long political career with a far-reaching impact, which included being nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He served as national chief of what’s now the Assembly of First Nations and was the former president of UBCIC. He also co-founded the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, where his efforts led to the creation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As a leader in the grassroots Constitution Express movement of 1981, he led hundreds of supporters to Ottawa in order to secure Indigenous rights in the Canadian Constitution — now articulated in section 35, which formally entrenches “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights” in Canadian law. Cases like R. v. Sparrow would go on to set legal precedent using this section and further define these rights.
AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Manuel was a true “warrior of the people” who fought for justice not only for Indigenous people, but for all — demonstrating how change can be made through action.
Born in 1921, he survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School after being taken there when he was nine years old. He went on to work as a tradesman in the lumbering industry before getting involved in politics.
“He inspired generations and he ensured that his legacy as a political leader, author and changemaker was an indelible one, not only for First Nations but for all of Canada,” said Archibald.
“He showed us despite the intergenerational trauma that we have suffered for many, many generations, he showed us intergenerational strength and he showed us intergenerational healing and intergenerational wisdom.”
The new Canada Post stamp features a black and white photo of Manuel that’s illustrated in multi-coloured designs by Secwépemc artist Tania Willard.
The colours “represent the ‘shining light’ of Manuel’s message for international Indigenous rights, while the deep red ochre evokes the pictographs and other markings found on Secwépemc lands,” according to Canada Post.
To announce the stamp’s release, Canada Post also issued a press release in Secwepemctsín — Manuel’s Indigenous language — as part of a wider effort to utilize the ancestral languages of the people being honoured, according to a statement.
‘It was amazing to be in his presence’
At the unveiling event, Manuel’s oldest granddaughter Dana spoke about how, although she didn’t get to spend as much time with her grandfather as she would have liked, he always made her feel special.
“When I did spend time with him, he made sure to treat me like I was the most important person in the world and would even tell adults: ‘my granddaughter’s talking, please listen to my granddaughter,’” she recalled. “And it was amazing to be in his presence.”
Charlene Aleck, a councillor for Tsleil-Waututh Nation, echoed the sentiment about Manuel’s strong presence, comparing him to a “grizzly bear” in the way he held himself and spoke. She recalled visiting Manuel’s home often as a child because their parents were close friends.
“I remember just sitting on the floor listening to him,” she said.
“Just hearing how the politics of where he came from was something that was so old but the way he was carrying it and delivering it was this bright, new shining light that I knew I wanted to follow.”
Grand Chief Phillip went on to say that George has left a strong legacy through his family, as well as all of the other people who he inspired to become powerful activists and leaders in their own right.
“It’s very comforting to know that the entire Canadian population will be looking at George when they put a stamp on their mail,” he said.
The stamp will be released on National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, along with two more featuring Nellie Cournoyea and Thelma Chalifoux.
With files from Lauren Kaljur
So do we. That’s why we spend more time, more money and place more care into reporting each story. You’ve told us through reader surveys you want to read local journalism that goes beyond press releases and problems. You want community reporting that explains, connects and uplifts.
“The Wren’s news is refreshing, not depressing, reporting info that is negative and hurtful. It encourages positive thought, not amplifying prejudice and brutality,” wrote one reader.
This kind of reporting is made possible thanks to financial contributions, big and small, from readers like you. Together, these contributions help ensure The Wren’s reporters and contributors are paid fairly and their in-depth reporting remains freely accessible to everyone.
Will you invest in the future of in-depth community news, by and for the people of Kamloops (T’kemlúps)?
If you've read this far, you likely value in-depth community journalism.