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Manuel was born to Maria and Rainbow in 1921, on the Secwepemc territory of the Shuswap people. Maria later married Louie Manuel and George took his last name. He was first educated at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, but contracted tuberculosis and was transferred to an Indian TB hospital on an Indian reservation near Chilliwack, British Columbia. It was there that Manuel met the woman who would become his first wife, Marceline Paul, a Kootenai woman from St. Mary's Indian Band. Together Manuel and Paul would have six children.
Unfortunately, Manuel's developing responsibilities as a political leader began to be a growing strain on his marriage. He was elected chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band. In 1959, following the death of his mentor Andy Paull, Manuel was elected head of the North American Indian Brotherhood. Soon after, he and Marceline separated. Not long after this, the federal Department of Indian Affairs hired Manuel for a position with the Cowichan Tribes government at Duncan. Manuel worked as a Community Development Officer, and increased the awareness of problems and conditions the Cowichan people were experiencing.
Manuel moved on from this position to a role with the Alberta Brotherhood, and developed a strong working relationship with the Cree political leader Harold Cardinal. Manuel networked extensively with chiefs across Canada during his time with the Alberta Brotherhood. Eventually Cardinal approached him to run for the position of national chief of the newly created National Indian Brotherhood, a body that would represent almost 250,000 Indians. After some time the National Indian Brotherhood would rename itself as the Assembly of First Nations, and Manuel would serve as its national chief from 1970 to 1976.
Building on this experience, in 1975 Manuel helped found and became the president of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, a position he kept until 1981. In this role he travelled internationally, meeting with and advocating for the indigenous people of nations like Argentina, Chile, and Peru. This work was inspired by his thinking on the impact of successive waves of European expansion on Indigenous societies, a group he termed "the Fourth World." Manuel wrote a book expanding on this idea, co-written with Michael Posluns, which was published in 1975.
George Manuel was President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs from 1979 to 1981, where he continued to inspire many into action. He developed the Aboriginal Rights Position Paper and organized what came to be regarded as one of the UBCIC's most ambitious projects – the Indian Constitutional Express. Under his leadership, the UBCIC worked hard to fulfil its mandate to the people. Under his leadership, the UBCIC grew in esteem of indigenous people for whom it was created and gained stature in the eyes of the general public. His legacy lives on at the UBCIC today.
Manuel was honoured several times for his lifetime of work representing both First Nations peoples in Canada and indigenous peoples worldwide. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was repeatedly recognized for his international work with the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. In 1983 he received an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. In 1984, Manuel and Dr. Rudolph C. Ryser formed the Center for World Indigenous Studies.
His sons Robert Manuel and Arthur Manuel became active in indigenous politics.
His eldest daughter Vera Manuel became an internationally known playwright, and poet, as well as a highly respected leader in the community.
For more information, see Wikipedia entry at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Manuel .
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