..."if only one good memory is left in our hearts - I will meet you there" - (from my poem MAGPIE)
…Was recently in Ottawa and unable to attend the funeral of the late Neskie Manuel whom I had come know a little over the past couple years. Neskie is the son of Secwepemc (Shuswap) activist Art Manuel and grandson of late indigenous rights activist, George Manuel and nephew of the late healer and writer, Vera Manuel. Anyone not familiar with these names should brush up on their Indian history and become aware of the relentless commitment this family has demonstrated to their community, their nation and to all indigenous people - all Indians (at least in the land referred to as Canada) owe a debt of gratitude to these people.
It would be inaccurate to say Neskie and I were close friends, but as mentioned, I did spend some time with him the last couple years having visited his reserve and the surrounding area dozens of times. We took a road trip together to Prince George early last year and he stayed with me at my apartment in the city during his involvement at a conference there. Neskie was one of those people I don’t think you could help but like. He was young (30), handsome, soft-spoken, bright-minded, dignified and exemplified in every real way the attributes of leadership that seem naturally to descend upon certain people and who seem to inhabit this aura effortlessly. But like others in his family, Neskie’s understood role as a leader wasn’t assumed by birthright and lineage to other activists, it was actively demonstrated day in day out. Neskie was, among other things, an elected councilor for Neskonlith Band, a tireless advocate for preservation of the Secwepemc language, an open source computer guy (which means NOT using Microsoft or other corporate software or operating systems), a mobile radio broadcaster (a so-called pirate radio operator after oppression by the CRTC), a filmmaker who seemed to have natural skills at all communications technology - a helicopter mechanic, for pete’s sake! (this tutelage begun during his service in the Navy as a “younger” man!). It’s a little hard to comprehend how much experience some people seem to be able to cram into a day, a year…a life. I dug Neskie’s sense of humor and had to laugh when following a couple hours I did on-air on his radio set-up, I asked if he had listened to my program (I wanted his approval, you see), to which he responded, dryly – "ummm…yes…I did get to experience your witty banter". It cracked me up and I think we were pals.
I recall when, within 2 minutes of being introduced to his mother, I was seated at her kitchen table early one Sunday, eating pancakes with a bunch of the Manuels as though they had known me for years. Days later I was to be present at a birthday party for one of Neskie’s nieces and watched how generous and unabashedly affectionate the family was toward each other from top to bottom. For a person like me, being there (a frequent theme of this blog) was a gift and I was touched when, before we ate, Neskie offered a blessing and said a few words in the Secwepemc language. Those I admire most (of any background) all seem to share and exhibit in an almost imperceptibly subtle way the same type of unassuming humility, selflessness and generosity of spirit. In the company of people like this you feel safe and somehow…important.
I cannot speak or know of the torments, passions or forces which lured Neskie away from beside a campfire at a traditional family campsite in the back country (early in the AM on Mother’s Day this year) and then delivered him to the nearby river where he was found downstream some weeks later after an exhaustive search. Nor is it my intention to speak of loss or unrealized aspirations, for Neskie surely experienced and gave far more in his brief 30 years than many are able to in a much longer lifetime.
Perhaps the best thing I can say is that sometimes you wish only for a little more time with some people and maybe that I am somehow…changed…and better for briefly knowing Neskie and his people.
Send us your soft power, Neskie.
All my relations.
© 2011 Champsteen Publishing