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Arthur Manuel's books should be mandatory reading for all Canadians

Photo: Tupak Huehuecoyotl​/Facebook

"The loss of our lands has been the precise cause of our impoverishment. Indigenous Peoples control only 0.2 [per cent] of the land in Canada while settler governments claim control of the other 99.8 [per cent]. With this distribution of land, you don't have to have a doctorate in economics to understand who will be poor and who will be rich. And our poverty is crushing." - Arthur Manuel, Secwepemc Nation from his book Unsettling Canada.

Arthur Manuel was like a brother to Kahnawake Mohawk policy analyst, writer, and activist Russ Diabo.  Recently, I had the honour and pleasure to speak by phone with Diabo. He told me about the life and work of Manuel, his long-time friend, fellow activist, and author of Unsettling Canada (UC) and The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land Rebuilding the Economy (RM).

According to Diabo, "Both books are important for understanding the real history of Indigenous peoples and today's treatment because the structure hasn't changed."

In UC, Manuel lays out Indigenous history as a pattern of dispossession followed by dependence which eventually gives way to uprisings that culminate in the oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Meanwhile, RM, focuses on Indigenous right to self-determination. But, Manuel doesn't shy away from addressing the fact that Indigenous Nations also need to put their own house in order.

According to Diabo, "First Nation assemblies have been co-opted by federal government money. They are not sitting at the table at the United Nations to ensure more international oversite. There is government oppression of the 0.2 [per cent] economy which is not addressing dependency on the federal government. This needs to be addressed through a change to the system which means going after Trudeau and his fake reconciliation."

Manuel's chapter on dishonest reconciliation embraces the creative use of language by settler politicians and a disrespecting of Indigenous self-determination as laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In 2007 when UNDRIP was adopted by the UN, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against it. In 2010 after succumbing to constant international pressure Canada endorsed the declaration. Yet, it wasn't until 2016 that Canada adopted and implemented the declaration. Even then, it did so only in accordance with the Canadian Constitution effectively demoting international law to a position secondary to national law -- something that is just not done.

To date, the Canadian government has refused to implement the UNDRIP Action Plan. It continues working against Indigenous interests; routinely excludes Indigenous representatives from decision making processes; and violates Nation to Nation treaties and international human rights law.

Chapter 43 of RM is a scant five pages that concisely lays out Manuel's six-point plan for effective, relatively painless decolonization that could, "Transform Canada into one of the most politically and environmentally progressive countries in the world, one that could be an example for all on how the ugly part of colonialism and racism, that has been so catastrophic for our people in terms of the sheer brutality we have been subject to, can finally be laid to rest. And both Indigenous peoples and Canadians can finally turn away from that sad past and look to a much brighter future."

On January 11, 2017, shortly after completing the manuscript for RM, Manuel died of congenitive heart failure at the age of 65.

Diabo remembers Manuel as, "The Nelson Mandela of the international Indigenous movement. No one has his knowledge, skill, and integrity. It will take many people to replace him and the limitless volunteer work he contributed."

Manuel's wife, son and two daughters are continuing the legacy of his work and they're joined by Manuel's vast network of friends and supporters numbering in the thousands.

Throughout this year of Colonialism 150 I've encouraged readers to listen to, watch or read an Indigenous point of view each week. Well, here you go settlers, buy a copy of each of these essential books and spend some quality time over the holidays educating yourself about Canada's colonial past and present, but more importantly embrace Manuel's vision of a Turtle Island that is truly home to Indigenous and settler alike.

While you're at it, simplify your life by buying several copies to give to your kids, in-laws, friends, colleagues, and dinner guests this holiday season. What a wonderful way to ring in a truthful New Year ready to hold Canada's governments accountable for meaningful Nation to Nation reconciliAction!

Photo: Tupak Huehuecoyotl​/Facebook

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