2018 Art Manuel Awards Recipients

Yellowhead Institute is indebted to generations of leaders, community organizers, land defenders, and those revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and practices. 

Our inaugural Art Manuel Awards recognizes some of these efforts; individuals and groups that resist settler colonialism in creative and meaningful ways. We are proud to celebrate and spotlight the three winners selected by our esteemed jury: Native Youth Sexual Health Network ($5000 award); Rhoda Quock, Tahltan Nation, the Klabona Keepers ($1000 award) and Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows First Nation ($1000 award). 

A Message about Art Manuel’s Legacy from Shiri Pasternak

ART MANUEL ONCE WROTE TO ME saying, “I have always felt that creating a Think Tank on Aboriginal Policy Matters would be an excellent idea.” 

In response to a pitch I shared with him regarding this, we discussed his vision of an independent think tank that could go further, and be more imaginative, radical, and sustainable than what other Indigenous organizations had managed to achieve. 


Art wrote about his concern that the “funding policies” of the federal government had compromised establishment organizations. He lamented every inch ceded under the rigorous federal review process of these funds that kept bands on a tight leash of compliance.

Art knew it would take time and resources to develop new strategies and he was a firm believer in drawing on an interdisciplinary range of expertise to implement new ideas and lines of defence. When the Tsilhqot’in decision came down in 2014, for example, he declared it “the first time in Canadian history that Indians got back their land,” then immediately set up a think tank with the Nation and some of the finest legal minds in the country to work through the challenges and pathways to maximizing the precedent in the service of Indigenous jurisdiction.

His commitment to action was matched by his appetite for learning and his genius for innovating, incorporating, and adapting ideas towards the goal of Indigenous liberation. His focus especially on the economic aspect of Indigenous rights distinguished him and struck fear in the heart of his enemies. He wrote to me in that same email,

“Economic uncertainty is created by the legal, constitutional and international rights that Indigenous Peoples have created. How we translate this into day-to-day decisions regarding access and benefits to our lands is being determined now. The courts, government policy and political action on the ground are creating the momentum needed to re-determine who should be making those decisions now and into the future.”

But we would first need to make a serious study of these structures of oppression to fight.

He wrote that he was “satisfied with the political work we have been doing” through the Defenders of the Land network, but felt apprehensive about how to move the needle forward on economic rights. But he felt education was the key, writing, “The grassroots on a broader scale do have collective power to defend their sovereign rights if they can see the danger.  This means that the Think Tank does have purpose and does have an audience if you want to plug in.“

We want to honour these grassroots individuals and movements, chosen by the jury, who are themselves growing that collective power of Indigenous peoples on these lands through their work. 

Art minced no words about what Indigenous liberation meant to him and often responded to “what’s up” texts with “just trying to get back my land.” This work of liberation happens on multiple fronts through diverse forms of labour and care. Though Art‘s focus was on economic rights, he valued above all the social fabric from which Indigenous communities were woven and especially the role of women in tightening these threads. We are humbled by the opportunity to support the work of NYSHN, Rhoda Quock of the Klabona Keepers, and Judy Da Silva of Grassy Narrows in the name of our dear friend, Arthur Manuel, who we miss dearly.

-Shiri Pasternak, Research Director, Yellowhead Institute;
longtime friend and collaborator of Art Manuel

“We have worked across nations and lands for over a decade as a grassroots community-based organization with youth leaders across Turtle Island without core funding but relying on our communities, grants, and awards to support the work of sexual and reproductive health, justice, and rights. We appreciate receiving this award in honor of Art Manuel’s legacy whose work focused so strongly on self-determination and our right to have sovereignty over our lives. At NYSHN, self-determination over our bodies, our lands, and our health is one of our core values whether that is about harm reduction; gender, sexuality and cultural identity; access to culturally relevant sex education; or simply, language that celebrates who we are as Indigenous young people.”


Native Youth Sexual Health Network

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) is an intergenerational community-based organization led by and for Indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice throughout the United States and Canada.

NYSHN is lead by Indigenous youth 30 years of age and under along with the support of aunties and mentors. In addition to our core team, NYSHN is advised by 3 Youth Councils and a network of community leaders. NYSHN works with Indigenous peoples across the United States and Canada to advocate for and build strong, comprehensive, and culturally safe sexuality and reproductive health, rights, and justice initiatives in their own communities.

Self-Determination & Decolonization

For more than a decade, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) has connected Indigenous youth across Turtle Island in pursuit of justice and self-determination. Although their name implies that their work is limited to sexual health, in practice, it extends much farther. NYSHN has always made a clear connection between Indigenous bodies and the land and in this way their values espouse a radical understanding of self-determination – that the gift of life must be honoured and fought for as a primary method of decolonization. If we cannot protect our bodies and those first teachings about birth and sex and family and love, we cannot adequately address issues at a community or national level.

NYSHN’s work has a strong focus on re-invigorating traditional knowledge, practices and laws around sexuality, birth, gender, and parenting.  Not only do they seek out knowledge from our histories, they interpret and translate this knowledge in a way that keeps it vibrant and alive. By practicing and engaging in traditions, they are actively contributing to the maintenance of traditional governance practices. Furthermore, their core value of “Connected to Body, Connected to Land” reminds us that the basis of who we are as nations is never separate from our experience as individuals/humans. 

-Written by Tara Williams, Nominator

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“Rhoda Quock is the most inspirational Indigenous land defender I know. Her group was responsible for kicking out Royal Dutch Shell’s natural gas operations, Fortune Mineral’s coal mine and Firesteel’s copper drilling through blockades, organizing music festivals and using the media to showcase their struggle. Her youngest son learnt to walk in the puddles of the Shell blockade. When she’s not involved with protecting her territory she spends her winters fundraising and managing the local youth hockey team, as she always puts community first.”

– Tamo Campos, Beyond Boarding, Nominator

Rhoda Quock

Wolf Clan, Tahltan Nation

Rhoda Quock is a spokesperson and co-founder for the Klabona Keepers, a matrilineal group of Elders who  successfully protected their traditional territories from fracking by Royal Dutch Shell and a 4000km coal mining operation in the Sacred Headwaters.

She served 2 years on the Iskut Band Council as an elected leader and has travelled as a motivational and educational speaker about effective grassroots activism. Rhoda works hard with her family as a mother of four to maintain her culture and connection to land.

Klabona Keepers & the Sacred Headwaters

Klabona Keepers is an organization of Tahltan elders and families who occupy and use traditional lands near Iskut, British Columbia known as Tl’abāne, the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers. These three rivers are vital and significant wild salmon rivers; the surrounding land is home to wildlife such as caribou, wolves and grizzly bears. The land is also rich in mineral and energy resources, making the area a target for industrial development. In 2004, Shell and Fortune Coal Limited were given rights to coalbed methane extraction in the territory. The Klabona Keepers blockaded road access and advocated for the protection of the land, water and environment. Their efforts galvanized support, attention and media coverage nationally and internationally, eventually leading to a moratorium on Shell’s activities. Despite this, further development and extraction attempts continue to ensue. The Klabona Keepers remain vigilant, resisting these attempts as protectors of the Sacred Headwaters.


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“Judy Da Silva has been a tireless defender of Indigenous rights, lands, waters and self-determination. Even when the provincial and federal governments turned their back on the community of Grassy Narrows for decades, she continued to advocate for social and ecological justice… Her quiet strength and conviction shine through in all of the forums wherein she shares her stories and her vision with the broader public.”

– Paula Hill and Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation, Nominators

Judy Da Silva

Grassy Narrows First Nation

Judy Da Silva is a mother of 5 children, an aunt, sister and grandma. This is what gives her the positive energy to continue to look for justice for the solution of the mercury poisoning of their river system in Grassy Narrows.

She was awarded the Michael Sattler Peace Prize in Germany 2013 & Human Rights Watch Award 2017 in recognition of her lifelong work to advocate for her community members for environmental protection but in a peaceful nonviolent direct action.  Judy lives in Grassy Narrows and suffers from the effects of mercury poisoning. She works in the government office of her community as the environmental health coordinator and was also a daycare administrator for 20 years.

Mercury Poisoning in Grassy Narrows

Between 1962 – 1970, Reed Paper Mill dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon-English River system, poisoning the people and ecosystem of Grassy Narrows First Nation. The result has been devastating on the health, way of life and economic/social prosperity for generations of Grassy members whose lives are very much centred around the water system and fish. After decades of denial, in 2017, the Ontario government committed $85 million to address the many negative effects of this poisoning; this effort is to include a mercury poisoning care home in the community. Despite this, the lasting effects of the mercury are significant and will continue on for years to come. There is lots of work to be done to support the community to heal and rebuild — a community that has been steadfast in fighting for their people, the land and the environment for years. Judy Da Silva has been, and continues to be an inspiring leader in this fight.


Judy Da Silva and Art Manuel are pictured here in the centre of the group at a peaceful direct action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2006 (est)

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