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LETTER: Why Leonard Marchand deserves to be on the $5

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February 01, 2020 - 12:11 PM

 


OPINION


 

Born in Vernon, B.C. in November 1933, Leonard Marchand was a member of the Okanagan Indian Band.

Born to illiterate parents, Marchand attended the day school at Six Mile Creek on the reserve.

He was the second Indian to graduate from Vernon High School and was amongst the first Indians to attend and graduated from UBC with a degree focusing on agriculture. Marchand received his Master’s Degree from the University of Idaho in 1964.

He was on his way to a PhD when another passion in his life took over.

His career in politics began in the 1950s, when Marchand became an active member of the North American Indian Brotherhood.

The fact that Indians could not vote in federal elections rightfully troubled Marchand and through his hard work and that of others, Indigenous people were granted the right to vote in 1960.

He had voted illegally in 1958 – an act of civil disobedience. Marchand’s interest in politics led to jobs with Liberal Cabinet Ministers Jack Nicholson and Arthur Laing.

As the 1960s came to a close, Marchand had plans to return to school to earn his PhD. A telegraph changed his mind.

He was invited to run for Member of Parliament in the Kamloops region. "I talked to Donna and the kids, Lori was in kindergarten and Len hadn't started school yet, and we decided there was no shame in losing to a guy like Davie Fulton,” said Marchand in an interview with the Kamloops This Week.

Fulton, the long-time Progressive Conservative MP for Kamloops was a sitting cabinet member.

Trudeaumania swept the country in the 1968 general election and Marchand soundly defeated Fulton, making him, the first status Indian to enter parliament.He became parliamentary secretary to Jean Chretien in 1972, when the latter was Minister of Indian Affairs.

In 1976, Marchand became the first Indian promoted to cabinet minister – first as Minister for Small Business and then from 1977-1979 served as Minister of the Environment.

Marchand brought the metric system to Canada and started paper recycling at the House of Commons. He also persuaded the federal government to commence land claim negotiations. Losing his seat in 1979, Marchand worked for Indian Bands in the Nicola Valley and the Western Indian Agricultural Corporation.

In 1984, he was appointed to the senate, where he formed and chaired the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. His work in the Canadian senate granted Indigenous veterans of previous wars a lump sum pension payout of $30,000. Retiring from the senate and public life, Len spent the later years of his life as a grandfather, elder statesman and all-around great guy.

Marchand's children have made a name for themselves in their own right with his daughter Lori Marchand being named the first director of Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre and his son Lenord Marchand Jr. being named a B.C. Supreme Court justice.

Marchand was such a selfless person that he would probably nominate his wife or one of the many nameless people he’s worked with over the years to make the lives of Canadians, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, better.

He died in 2016.


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