The Late Honourable Len Marchand, P.C., C.M.

Honourable senators, last week, Canada lost one of its most accomplished First Nations leaders. Len Marchand, our former colleague, died at the age of 82. Today, I would like to pay tribute to his remarkable life and many years of public service.

Let me begin by saying that few Canadians have had such groundbreaking careers. Len was the first status Indian to graduate from his public high school, and he was one of the few indigenous students enrolled at the University of British Columbia in the late 1950s.

He was the first status Indian to work as a ministerial aide in Ottawa, be elected to the House of Commons, become a parliamentary secretary, and serve in the federal cabinet. I like to think of him as the original Aboriginal in Parliament.

I covered his political career as a journalist on the Hill in the 1970s and got to know him well. After all, Len was a little guy like me. He had a strong voice and understood both sides of every issue. He would speak about the pride of First Nations but also of the many challenges they faced. These discussions could be difficult, but Len, as you always saw him walking with that smile, always kept his sense of humour. It was one of his finest qualities.

In 1984, he became the fifth Aboriginal Canadian appointed to the Senate of Canada. Honourable senators, Len was a great storyteller and he continued to tell the story of Canada’s indigenous peoples when he arrived here.

While I did not have the privilege of serving alongside him in the Senate, here is some history for you. The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples is a daily reminder of his legacy. The committee was created in 1990 through a motion introduced by Senator Marchand. He later became its first chair. What a rich history we have because of Senator Marchand.

His legacy can also be seen in the organization of the Liberal Party of Canada, where he helped found the Aboriginal Peoples Commission, which was established in 1990. Known today as the Indigenous People’s Commission, it remains the only such entity within a federal political party. He had wonderful accomplishments.

Upon his retirement from the Senate in 1998, our dear friend, former Senator Joyce Fairbairn said, “Len was a person who broke down barriers and charted new courses for himself and for the people whom he always represented, the Native people and the status Indians of this country.” Wonderful words, again, by Senator Fairbairn.

Len has been described by many as a trailblazer. He was, but more than that, he was a good soul. His determination, achievements and commitment to Canada will continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Thank you, honourable senators.