In 1968, Len Marchand became the first “Status Indian” to be elected to the Parliament of Canada, from the riding of Kamloops. He went on to become the first to be a member of the federal cabinet as well.
Only eight years before, Len – along with all Status Indians – was ‘granted’ the right to vote by the Parliament of Canada.
1960. Can you believe that? That’s not that long ago.
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was in power. His government took action where previous Liberal and Conservative governments had not.
An agronomist by training, Len’s political activism led him to elected office in 1968, 1972, and 1974 as a Liberal. He was swept out in 1979 when the Liberals were defeated. He was the last federal Grit to be elected from the BC Interior. We’ll see if that changes tonight.
To my knowledge, Len was the last First Nations person to be elected from BC as well. 41 years ago. (note: I’m distinguishing First Nations from Metis)
This election, there are First Nations candidates that could take a seat in Parliament from BC. Here’s a list of all aboriginal candidates in Canada for each party.
Jody Wilson-Raybould stands an excellent chance of being elected from the riding of Vancouver-Granville. A lawyer, former Crown Prosecutor, and former Regional Chief for Assembly of First Nations.
Trent Derrick of the NDP appears to have a solid chance at the riding of Cariboo-Prince George. The NDP have two other First Nations candidates – Carleen Thomas in North Vancouver and Kathi Dickie in PG-Peace River-Northern Rockies. Thomas and Dickie are longshots to win.
The issue of why there are not more First Nations elected from BC to the Parliament of Canada and the BC Legislative Assembly is a topic for a future blog post, one that I intend to take on properly after the election. Len and others have done a lot of work in this area and, this election, there is increased advocacy from indigenous groups compared to previous elections.
When one looks at the career of Len Marchand, you realize the tremendous potential for First Nations perspective to inform federal and provincial decision-making. While this insight is presented in other forums and bilaterally from First Nations to government, having that insight on the floor of the House, in the caucus room, and at the cabinet table is something that would strengthen our parliamentary institutions.
Len’s book “Breaking Trail” is a great political bio and record of an era of politics from the 1960s through the 1990s.