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Breaking Trail: The Autobiography of Len Marchand Hardcover – Jun 1 2000


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About the Author

Len Marchand was born during the depths of the Great Depression to illiterate parents on a reserve in the then remote Okanagan Valley of BC. Len pursued education with single-minded determination. His love of learning earned him a Masters Degree in Forestry, and he was on his way to a Ph.D and a satisfying career as a teacher and a research scientist. But a growing involvement in the North American Indian Brotherhood's fight for full citizenship for his people led into what should have been merely a two-year side-trip into politics. The NAIB prevailed on him to go to Ottawa as the first status Indian special assistant to the federal minister responsible for Indian affairs, a temporary job that segued into more than three decades in public life.

Matt Hughes was Len Marchand's speechwriter and co-communications aide during his term as Minister of State for Small Business and Minister of the Environment. Hughes is the author of two published novels and a number of short stories, but his main occupation for the past twenty years has been as a writer for hire, specializing in freelance corporate and political speechwriting, annual reports and ghostwritten newspaper articles for a wide range of clients in business and politics.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Foreword

I hate being called an Indian. My old friend Dr. Gur Singh is an Indian-or at least he was before he became an Indo-Canadian. But I've been called - and have had to call myself - an Indian all my life, just because a certain Genoese explorer made a simple miscalculation of the circumference of the earth, five hundred years ago.

I have great respect for the peoples and ancient culture of India. But I am not an Indian. I am a Skilwh. That means I am a member of the Okanagan nation. But if I identify myself by that word throughout these pages, no one but my fellow Skilwh will know what I mean. And I will still have to refer to the Indian Act, and the Indian Affairs Branch (IAB), and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND), Indian Reserves and Indian Agents, because Christopher Columbus's boneheaded mistake is woven right through the history of Canada's relations with my people.

I don't like the other choices: "aboriginal person" sounds like anthropologists' jargon and is too broad a term, since it includes Inuit and Metis; 'native' just means I was born here, but so were most Canadians; and 'First Nations' is a pretentious, politically-loaded phrase meant to remind the rest of the population that we were here long before the first Viking longships of Basque whalers or Portuguese fishing boats bumped up against Newfoundland.

I like the way the Inuit have reclaimed their true name, doing away with "Eskimo," a derogatory term applied to them by their enemies. I like the way they have renamed their territory Nunavut, which means "Our Land" in Inuktitut. I wish we Indians could do the same. If it were up to me, I'd be called a "Dene," like many of the people of the Northwest Territories, northern Saskatchewan and northern British Columbia. It's a dignified sounding name; it's easy to say; a lot of Canadians already recognize it; and it just means "people" or person, depending on how many you're talking about.

Maybe, a generation or two from now, we Indians will have found a name for ourselves that we can feel good about. But, for now and for clarity's sake, throughout this book I will continue to refer to myself and my people by the old, wrong word - although in my heart I am, and always will be, Skilwh.


CHAPTER 1: "Hey Indian..."

A few years ago, when David Lam was about to retire as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, my name was one of those tossed around in the press as a possible successor. I told Peter O'Neill of the Vancouver Sun that I did not want to be considered for the post and that was the end of the talk.

I could not be the representative of a hereditary monarchy. I have always believed that sovereignty rests with the people, not with one particular family - and a foreign one at that. And, although I believe the Queen does a good job as our head of state, I think that any country that still has a foreign monarch in that position has a lot more growing up to do.

If it were up to me, we'd create our Lieutenant Governors and Governors-General from amongst our own - a Nancy Greene Raine (whose sister Liz Greene worked for me in Ottawa), or a Margaret Atwood perhaps - people who represent what is best in all of us. And even though I think the latest Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson, is a fine choice, I'd still take that power out of the Prime Minister's hands. Instead, I'd form an electoral college from all the recipients of the Order of Canada and the Medal for Bravery - let those who have been honoured by the country for accomplishment or bravery choose a head of state we can all look up to, someone who makes us feel proud to be Canadians.

Still, to be considered as a suitable candidate to be BC's first Indian Lieutenant Governor, just as I was reaching a point in life where I was beginning to think back on where and how I had started out, brought home to me how much has changed during my lifetime. Then I got to thinking about some of the things that haven't changed, but should have. That's when I made up my mind to write this book.

I was born on November 16, 1933 at Vernon Jubilee Hospital. The town of Vernon is sixteen miles from my parents' house at Six Mile Creek on the Okanagan Reserve Number One. Since we didn't have a car until 1942 when my father bought a 1929 Plymouth four-door from my sister Josephine's boyfriend, Tim Voght, who was going off to war, my mom and dad must have hitched a ride into town, probably with my uncle Louie, who was the only one in the family who owned a car back then. I never thought to ask my parents for any such details surrounding my birth, and now it's too late.

I was the third child in a big family that mostly ran to girls. I have two older sisters, Josephine and Theresa, and four younger ones: Margaret, Joan, Pauline and Alice. A seventh girl, Martina Mary, died as an infant, and I also have a half-sister, Millie, who is my father's child from before he married my mother. It was twenty years after my birth before my parents produced my brother Raymond. By then, I had left home to get my education, so he and I never got to know each other as brothers do when they grow up together.

I didn't mind being the only boy in the household. I was well tended, and maybe even a little spoiled, as a child; my sister Josephine tells me she always used to carry me around on her back while our mother was working. And when I got big enough, I could get on a horse and go help our father with the cattle.

My Dad was Joseph Marchand. He was thirty-three when I came along, a strong man, about six feet tall and weighing close to two hundred pounds in his prime, and muscled from a lifetime of hard work. He walked with a limp, though: seven years before I was born he was bucked off a horse and broke his leg in several places. The doctoring of Indians being then a somewhat chancy business, the leg never set right.

When I was young, there was a story in the family that the Marchand name had come from a half-Indian French Canadian coureur du bois who had left his place as a guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition way back in the nineteenth century to marry an Okanagan woman down in what was then called the Oregon Territory. But in 1995 I asked Jean-Jacques Seguin, who lives in Hull and whose hobby is genealogical research, to cut through the legend and find the truth. He traced the family all the way back to a Normandy farm labourer, Jacques Marchand, who landed at Trois Rivieres in New France in 1656.

Mr. Seguin identified my great-grandfather, Joachim Marchand as the man who brought the name west from the Bratiscan region of Qu6bec. He seems to have left Quebec in 1840, as a young man of 24. By 1850, he was in St. Louis, Missouri, and went from there up into Montana to work for a fur company as a trader with the Blackfoot and Crow.

In 1854, he left Montana with a companion, each of them with three saddle horses, to come west into the then unsettled Washington Territory. Along the way, the horses were taken, likely by the Sioux, so the two men travelled on foot the rest of the way. Living off fish, game and berries, they followed the Missouri River to its head, then crossed the Rockies by the same pass Lewis and Clark had used, finally arriving at the Hudson's Bay fort at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River in 1855. Great-grandad Joachim squatted on a parcel of land that had fifty feet of river frontage, and took up placer mining with some success. He also married my great-grandmother, an Okanagan woman known only as Victoria. There is no record of whether they married in a church ceremony, or "after the fashion of the country," but they remained together till death did them part in 1911.

My mother was born Agnes Robinson. She was not sure who her father was: her mother, Lena Lawrence, had children with four or five men. She also had no recorded birth date, only a baptism certificate from the old church on the O'Keefe Ranch from when she was eleven years old. The old-timers used to tell me that my mother was a much sought-after beauty when she was a young woman. Boys don't recognize such things about their mothers until they grow up and see old pictures of them. I have my parents' wedding photo, and I have to say those old-timers were right.

My mother was a devout Catholic who went to mass every chance she got. She was hard on my sisters, always keeping them on a very short rein; she was so afraid of their running around and getting pregnant. As a boy, I had more leeway - I could go to dances at the band hall or to ball games in the summer. I felt kind of bad about it, sometimes.

Neither of my parents could read or write, though my father had learned to read a little and to sign his name. During the war years, when my cousin John was overseas as a gunner in the artillery, my older sisters and I would read the newspapers to Mom and Dad, so they would know what he was involved in. My sisters and I had been to school, and though I am now ashamed to admit it, I used to tease our mother sometimes when we went to the grocery store in town, pointing to signs and labels and asking her, 'What does that say, Mom?" or, 'What size is that tin?" But although my mother was not educated, she was an intelligent woman, and would manage to do her shopping even without help from her smart-alec son.

Later on, when I could call myself educated, I would think back on how it was for my parents, how they had to live in a tightly circumscribed world because they could not read, and I would feel an overwhelming sadness and a strong tinge of guilt. When I was in the Senate, and Joyce Fairbairn tried to get me involved in her literacy programs, I'd always beg off, I couldn't bring myself to do more than cheer her on from the sidelines. The memories hurt too much.

We were farmers and cattle ranchers in a very small way: subsistence agriculture is the anthropologists' term. My parents supplemented our farm income any way they could. Dad would sometimes go off the reserve to a logging camp for a week at a time, and Mom and the rest of us worked... (Foreword and Chapter One:)

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