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An Interview With George Manuel, President Of The National Indian Brotherhood

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      NOVEMBER 1971      v02 n09 p06  
George Manuel The Sask. Ind.: Mr. Manuel, one of the most recent issues to come up in the news towards Indian people across Canada has been the decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Ontario to Jeannette Corbiere Lavall regarding her treaty Indian status. This is an old issue but it just recently received special notoriety from the courts in Ontario. What stand is the NIB taking and what stand do you take personally on this matter?

Mr. Manuel.: Well the NIB has not discussed this at all so there is no stand taken by the NIB but I have been involved in discussions on this very issue for a number of years and the Supreme Court's decision of course is going to be challenged. The Union of Ontario Indians I think is going to ask that the Federal Government reverse its stand against their decision. My own personal opinion is that they should. Bands across the country differ in their opinion of what should be. Some go for the idea that women should retain their membership in a band on certain conditions, for instance leaving their share of band funds within the capital of that band. Some just simply say, if they marry a white man they should leave.

Because there are many differences of opinion across the country, my own opinion is that there should be enabling legislation provided so the responsibility lies in the hands of the bands of what it wishes to do with the situation like this in conjunction with the person who is being enfranchised through marriage.

The Sask. Ind.: The initial reaction by a lot of white liberals and people across Canada is that this is a good move. It combines equal status for women and the problem of retaining Indian identity. Now what about the other side of the coin when a white woman marries an Indian man, she is able to come into the band and become an Indian under the terms of the Indian Act? How do you feel about this?

Mr. Manuel: I think usually the man's whole life style of living is tied to the Indian reserve, particularly if the guy has grown up there, he hasn't got the educational means to compete in the outside world. His whole cultural background is tied to that community so he has to provide for his wife by making a living in that community. So his wife comes with him. I think that's a choice a white woman or non-Indian woman makes before the marriage and decides that. On the other hand, a white man has already established himself off the reserve and I think when he marries an Indian woman, he's decided he's going to take her away I think the Indian woman has decided this is what she wanted. Now of course today the Indian women are saying I want to marry this white man and go away with him wherever his business or home is, but I want to retain my membership into the band. I think its her perogative to do this excepting it should be in consultation with her band.

The Sask. Ind.: How do you feel about statements people are saying "let's take this case one step further into the Supreme Court of Canada".

Mr. Manuel: I think they're intervening into the human rights Indian people have regarding the legal status of that particular band and its membership. Indian reserves didn't come as an accident. They came as a result of Treaties that Indian reserves were set aside.

The Sask. Ind.: Let's just talk for awhile about the NIB, I'm sure many of our readers don't fully understand what the National Indian Brotherhood stands for, what it does and what sort of programmes the organization is carrying on right now.

Mr. Manuel: First of all I would like to give a background history to it. The NIB was already in existence when I got elected and I really don't think I know the history behind why people decided there should be a National Indian Brotherhood. I'm sure the people who brought it into existence weren't very clear, or weren't very certain as to why they wanted it also.

The NIB consists of the Federation of Provincial organizations, every provincial organization in Canada has a membership to the National Indian Brotherhood. While this is the framework in which the Indian Brotherhood exists, many provincial leaders still talk about the NIB as though it was an alien organization or as though it was something apart from them, but the NIB makeup is the same way as the provincial organization's makeup. The Board elected within a provincial organization from the chiefs or from the membership of the Indian, communities throughout that particular province. That is the makeup of that board. Now the board gives direction to the President of how it should function and what programs it should undertake and how it should apply that program. Now the NIB makeup is the same way except that the Presidents who are elected within the Province are the Board members to the NIB. Now up to this point there has been no programs as such and I don't think there ever should be. I think the function of the NIB should be to pressure Government for the national needs of Indian people across the country for instance Indian Rights now are demanding that there should be decentralization of resources, funding for different programs, economic development and education. I think what should happen here is that the provincial organizations really seriously sit down and design a policy in a way in which these resources should be decentralized to whom and how, then it should be the NIB's responsibility to develop a powerful lobbying force at the headquarter level to lobby for whatever the Indian people across Canada want collectively. That's the function, but it's not functioning this way. It's not functioning because there is a lot of education to be done with provincial organizations. I think to a large degree the NIB is misunderstood as a separate organization way up in Ottawa trying to develop its own bureaucracy. I think that's one of our basic problems today and I think it will continue to be although it's very encouraging in the last month, Alberta and Saskatchewan are beginning to recognize this. Now the question is to sit down and come to terms with each other across the nation.

The Sask. Ind.: You mentioned the NIB as being a lobbying group or force, what are some items at the present time that you are lobbying for?

Mr. Manuel: Let me answer your first question, what is the Brotherhood lobbying for? The Brotherhood up to this point has lobbied crises situation on the crises to crises basis. When any one provincial organization has a problem there is an immediate resolution in demand to have the NIB to go into that particular area to support that effort. To me that is not a constructive approach to developing a strong lobbying force. It's only plugging holes where the problem develops and maybe at the expense of another region. The big job that I have of course is to develop and identify the areas under which we can collectively apply pressure for the benefit of doing away with 80% unemployment on the Indian community across the nation, the 94% dropout rate. We should be drafting and designing a policy which would put the power of education into the hands of the Indian people rather than the government. And we're not doing this we're doing this individually The NIB hasn't really applied itself for how it should be functioning. I think this comes from inexperience of how Indian organizations function.

The Sask. Ind.: These problems on the National level, are they created by a region or particular province or just general across country difficulties?

Mr. Manuel: Because a strong central policy in the NIB has to come from all regions, there has to be an agreement between all the provincial organizations. There is no use for the NIB for instance to develop a policy that nobody is going to support so the policy has got to come from the provincial organizations. If the policy doesn't agree with some of the provinces then the thing that has to happen is to sit down and talk these out. We've all come into an agreement of what policy we're prepared to pursue or support. A lot of people believe that the Brotherhood is a powerful, organization, as a President I would say it is not powerful. Until the provincial organizations get behind the Brotherhood on issues of their choosing, not my choosing. I think a very good example is what is happening in Northeastern Alberta. The National Brotherhood was called upon to support the issues, and the demands of the people of that particular area and I think the Eastern groups were prepared to support it unilaterally. I immediately said are you prepared to support this unconditionally and people asked me what I meant by unconditionally. I told them unconditionally means that you support no matter what happens including even if they take the money that is committed to your region for the same particular problem that exists in Northeastern Alberta. They said no and I said well then on the basis of constructive development, you've got to plan together across the nation of what approach you've got to take. In the past this is what has happened, when pressures came in from one particular region, those needs and demands are usually met at the expense of another region and I think as Indian leaders, we should recognize this and approach it collectively on a national basis so we can set the needs of all of the areas across the country rather than just one region or two or three regions.

The Sask. Ind.: At the Region meeting this summer of the NIB, the meeting ended in a walkout by the Alberta delegation. What has happened since this walkout and how do you see your present relationship with the Province of Alberta.

Mr. Manuel: The basic reason for the walkout by Alberta was their resistance against the Indian Rights and Treaties Commission. It didn't want it to exist, it didn't want funding to come through the NIB to the provincial organizations. I think the provinces that supported the continued existence of Indian Rights and Treaties were thinking in terms of not competing for funds from the Federal Government. They were thinking in terms of collectively approaching the Federal Government for funding for this research which would be distributed by the Brotherhood. I think what Alberta was demanding was that they themselves individually apply for funds for research to the Federal Government and that every province across the nation make their own application. I think the people who supported the continuation and existence of the committee were saying the government will have us fighting one against the other. They will be playing us one against the other when we compete for these funds. Let's sit down and design a collective approach in which we together as all the Indians in Canada, will demand research funds which will meet the requirements for staff, equipment etc. to carry out this research. It was a collective approach and I think on the basis it was serious misunderstanding and Alberta didn't want to operate this way and they walked out. But since that time, Alberta has reconsidered this position and has come back into the Indian Rights and Treaties and have submitted their application through the NIB and we have released funds to them to continue


An Interview With George Manuel, President Of The National Indian Brotherhood

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      NOVEMBER 1971      v02 n09 p07  
their research.

The Sask. Ind.: How do you feel about the statements made by some people that this dispute in a lot of ways may have had personal overtones between Alberta and the national level and B.C. getting in there for a few digs at the same time?

Mr. Manuel: I think you know B.C. was one of the organizations that supported the principle of collective movement on the national basis and I think B.C. statement to Alberta's walkout was simply describing a difference between regional structures and national structures and I think they used the Federal Government as a means to illustrate their argument. I think it was a straight forward difference of opinion of how a national organization can apply itself for the benefit of Indian people. I think Alberta has reconsidered this position that Alberta's approach was to me a negative approach and if it had continued and if the rest of the provincial organizations across the country had that stand then there was no need for a National Indian Brotherhood. I was prepared to resign if the situation had gone to that extent. Any man with any common sense would say what is the need of having a NIB if you're not going to design collective stands for common issues on the national basis. And I think research is one of the common issues.

The Sask. Ind.: I understand you hired a special researcher who is skilled in international law. I was wondering how he had viewed other countries that have minorities and aboriginal inhabitants that have treaties with the white society that have moved in the past two or three centuries and how they've dealt with them in terms of an Indian Act or something like this? Take for instance the aboriginees in Australia or the Maoris in New Zealand.

Mr. Manuel: Well, the lawyer that we have is an East Indian and comes from a part of a third world group. As far as your question of an Act, there is a special Act in New Zealand but the Act in no way is similar to the Indian Act in Canada. The Act only extends to the rights of lands and beyond that there is no special privileges and also there is an Act for the Maoris that they have special seat in the House of Commons which we haven't got in this country and only the Maoris can vote for a Maori and so they are guaranteed four seats in the House of Commons. And these four members of Parliament as representatives of the Maoris can debate on the same basis, as the whole parliamentary assembly. As far as the aboriginees in Australia are concerned they have reservations which are similar to the reservations here excepting that they have band funds which basically belongs to all the aboriginees in the whole of Australia rather than individual band funds here. Each band has its own fund that belongs to that continuent and cannot be expended to another band in any other area regardless if its within the whole nation and all Aborigines are entitled, which means if there is a poor Aborigine community and there's a rich one, the distributor of funds is equal.