'Always ... community's best interests at heart'

Former Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Louis Manuel Jr. (Photo courtesy of Ak-Chin O’odham Runner)

Dalton Walker

Mourning the loss of former Ak-Chin Chairman Louis Manuel Jr.

The Ak-Chin Indian Community in southern Arizona is mourning the loss of former Chairman Louis Manuel Jr.

Manuel’s death was “sudden and unexpected,” according to an April 6 tribal government news release. He was 57. On social media, Manuel’s family reported his death on April 5. An official cause of death was not released, but the Associated Press reported it wasn’t related to COVID-19.

Manuel served on tribal council and as chairman from 2007 to 2017. The former chairman played a key role in AK-Chin’s growth and helped guide the tribe through a period of “rapid growth and economic diversification,” according to the news release. Flags have been lowered in Ak-Chin in his honorl.

“The Ak-Chin Indian Community has lost a great leader in Chairman Louis Manuel Jr,” said Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel in a statement. “Words cannot express the pain and suffering the community is enduring at this time. He not only was a great leader, but a great father, husband and friend. He loved his community and always put his people first. Chairman Manuel’s legacy lives on and the positive imprint he left on this community is visible all around us in the form of progress and economic opportunity for Ak-Chin members.”

His tenure included the expansion of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino, construction of the UltraStar MultiTainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle and other community enterprises, the news release states.

In a public post on Facebook, Manuel’s wife Yolanda Rodriguez posted a photo of the two together and thanked everyone for their kind words. “My precious, precious husband. My heart… We were perfect together! I cannot expect that anyone would have less than kind words as there was no greater man in the world,” she wrote.

Manuel’s sister, Erica said on Facebook that the outpouring of support has been comforting to their family. “He was uncle Lou to the family. He dressed up as Santa every year to hand out gifts during our annual family Christmas gathering. He instilled so much knowledge and leadership into me. I am who I am today because of him. I loved our time together and will remember all that he taught me about life and traditions.”

“He always had the community’s best interests at heart,” she added. “Even in our recent texts, just the other day, he was discussing community issues and his concerns for our elders during this pandemic.”

In a statement, council member Lisa Garcia said Manuel advocated for higher education, healthcare access and economic development.

“Today we remember his many achievements, it’s his giving heart that will be missed the most,” Garcia said.

Ak-Chin, an O’odham word that translates to “mouth of the wash” or “place where the wash loses itself in the sand or ground,” has nearly 1,100 tribal citizens and is known for its farming community. It's located just south of the Phoenix Valley near the town of Maricopa.

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce posted a photo of Manuel on its Facebook page and shared the following message:

“Chairman Manuel has been a long standing member of the regional business community and a force behind economic development. Chairman Manuel was a longtime supporter of the city of Maricopa and instrumental in several cooperative efforts and decisions. A statesman in every way, Chairman Manuel forged relationships with both city governments as well as our neighboring Indian communities, he enjoyed a strong working relationship with Mayor (Christian) Price.”

A public visitation for Manuel will be April 13 at the Ak-Chin Service Center. Mass will be held the next day for immediate family members followed by internment. A memorial video will be available via social media and services will follow the Center of Disease Control and Prevention requirements for social distancing during wake and funeral services.

Manuel is survived by his wife, children; Reannon Manuel, Jeremy Manuel, Michael Garcia and Vanessa Garcia.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker

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