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First Nations leader and activist Arthur Manuel has died at 66, after a lifetime of standing up for indigenous rights in B.C., Canada and around the world.Murray Mitchell/The Globe and Mail

First Nations leader and activist Arthur Manuel has died at 66, after a lifetime of standing up for indigenous rights in B.C., Canada and around the world.

Mr. Manuel, known for his advocacy on issues such as land and water rights, was a long-time chief of B.C.'s Neskonlith Indian Band and leader and spokesman for the Interior Alliance, a group of British Columbia First Nations that clashed with government over logging rights in the early 2000s.

He co-wrote the 2015 book Unsettling Canada: a National Wake-up Call with Ronald Derrickson and connected with indigenous people's movements around the world.

His death brought an outpouring of tributes, including one from B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who in a statement Thursday called Mr. Manuel a "steadfast, courageous champion for Indigenous people across Canada."

For decades, Mr. Manuel pushed governments and international bodies such as the United Nations to pay more attention to indigenous concerns when it came to trade agreements or events such as the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

"Arthur Manuel represented a very powerful force and presence in regard to our ongoing struggle to seek a full measure of justice in relation to indigenous land rights and human rights," said Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"He was a champion of our rights to self-determination – and rejected any notion that we should be required to extinguish or diminish or modify our rights in an effort to seek any measure of recognition from the government of Canada or the province of B.C.," he added.

"He never took a step backwards."

In B.C., Mr. Manuel was part of the considerable opposition to the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline, which this week won an environmental certificate from the provincial government.

The $6.8-billion project, which had previously received a green light from the federal government, would triple capacity of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that runs from Edmonton to Burnaby.

Opponents, including the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in Vancouver, say the risk of an oil spill is too great and maintain the pipeline will never be built.

Mr. Manuel objected to the pipeline's route through Secwepemc lands.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, dated Nov. 28, 2016, he wrote, "I would like to remind you that this pipeline requires the consent of the Secwepemc people. We do not accept that the federal government can make this decision unilaterally and without the prior informed consent of the Secwepemc people as the rightful titleholders."

Agreements between pipeline proponent Kinder Morgan and a few Indian band councils do not represent the rightful titleholders, he added.

"In fact, the agreements are made with Bands whose reserves cover less than one per cent of the Secwepemc Territory along the existing Kinder Morgan Pipeline and they appear to be little more than cynical attempts to divide and conquer our people – as we have seen on so many other occasions," the letter said.

Mr. Manuel's father, George, founded the National Indian Brotherhood, the predecessor of today's Assembly of First Nations, and a brother and sister were also politically active.

Arthur Manuel "did a lot of work internationally, he broke ground and led the way – he was very articulate in the international community," said Wayne Christian, chief of the Splatsin First Nation.

"He's left a trail that's a real good foundation we can build on, but it's just a shock that he's actually gone," Mr. Christian said.

That work included submissions to the World Trade Organization in relation to the softwood lumber trade between Canada and the United States.

"He would have been right out front and speaking his mind and very articulate on things like the Kinder Morgan [pipeline]," Mr. Christian said. "That's just the way Art was – he was just front and centre."

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