Rita Manuel (nee Swakum) was the only female in the first graduating class of 8 at BCIT in 1969. She was also the first Aboriginal person to attend the Public Health Program which was then known as “Public Health and Pollution Control”.
She first worked for Health Canada as an Environmental Health Officer from 1969 – 1971 leaving at that time to become a Community Health Representative for several First Nation Communities in the Merritt area. She rejoined Health Canada in 1995 staffing a new district office. From here she provided a comprehensive public health program to more than 12 First Nations in Merritt, Lillooet and Fraser Canyon.
Rita was known for her passion for public health, and dedication to her clients. She was affectionately known as the “gentle giant” in resolving complex and contentious issues with a quiet but persistent manner. Rita has come out from retirement on several occasions to assist the Environmental Health team in Kamloops on various projects.
Recent activities include her participation in Upper Nicola Band committees such as promoting Sylix First Nation culture and recreation to youth and the Health Advisory Committee. Learning the Sylix language continues to be one of her many goals.