Tributes poured in over the weekend at the death of Len Marchand, who was the first status Indian elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada and served as Parliamentary Secretary, Minister of State, Minister of the Environment and Senator.
On June 2 he walked on at age 82, days after being admitted to the hospital with kidney problems, the Canadian Press reported.
“Len Marchand was an inspiration and a groundbreaking leader for First Nations and all Indigenous Peoples,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement. “He was a man of many firsts, and we will always remember his work, his life, his dedication and his achievements. This is a tremendous loss for all of us and, on behalf of the AFN National Executive, we send our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends and community."
Both he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of their “great sadness” at the news.
“A member of the Okanagan Indian Band, Mr. Marchand was a tireless champion for a stronger role for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in Canadian political life, as well as justice for Indigenous Peoples,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement. “He received several accolades for his work, including being appointed a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, and receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee awards.”
Marchand was born in Vernon, British Columbia, in 1933, and was elected as a Liberal MP in 1968 for the Kamloops-Cariboo district. He was appointed to the senate in 1984, the second indigenous person in the country’s history to hold that office. Retiring in 1998, he received the Order of Canada in 1999.
“He was much admired by my father,” Trudeau said, referring to the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was in office from 1968 to 1979 and championed Marchand’s candidacy. “Mr. Marchand was a trailblazer for indigenous involvement in Canadian politics and a champion of their rights. His legacy will live on in those he inspired and helped. Len will be remembered for his strong convictions, his legendary sense of humor and his tireless work to make Canada a better place for Indigenous Peoples.”
Marchand, in turn, supported and endorsed other indigenous candidates, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was one of 10 indigenous candidates elected last October.
"A great role model of mine and a true bridge builder," she said via Twitter, expressing her condolences.
Holding elected office was not his first pioneering move for Indigenous Peoples, according to CTV News and the Canadian Press.
“He was the first status Indian to graduate from a public high school in his hometown and one of the first indigenous students to study at the University of British Columbia,” the network noted.
“He really worked hard on how to make a better place for First Nations people, as well as doing all the other things he did as an MP,” said Chief Nathan Matthew of the Simpcw First Nation north of Kamloops to the Canadian Press. “He had an incredible memory, in terms of remembering people and places and conversations … and had a great sense of humor.”