Leonard Marchand was born in Vernon, BC, and is a Skilwh, a member of the Okanagan nation. He was educated at the Okanagan Indian Day School at Six Mile Creek; Kamloops Indian Residential School and then was the first of his people to enrol in Vernon High School. The agricultural training which was part of the curriculum at Vernon High School may have helped to instill a love of learning more about the technical aspects of agriculture. Consequently Leonard entered UBC as a second-year student in the BSA program and quickly developed a strong interest in plant science. Summer work at the Canada Department of Agriculture’s Research Station at Kamloops extended this interest into research. However he found time to enjoy the social events at UBC and recalls being at the microphone with Ross Husdon calling the do-se-do’s and allemandes at the “Farmers’ Frolic”, the annual Aggie Ball.
He obtained the BSA in 1958 and took up a position as technician at the Kamloops Station. He was promoted to Research Scientist in 1960 and looked forward to a satisfying career as a range scientist. Educational leave at the University of Idaho led to the award of a Master’s degree in Forestry in 1964, the thesis research being done at the Kamloops Station. Enrolment in a PhD program at the University of Oregon seemed to be the next step for Leonard, but his becoming active in the North American Indian Brotherhood (NAIB) led him into politics and a subsequent appointment as Assistant to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa in 1965. He was the first Indian to hold such a position. Later he worked in the newly formed Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development as assistant to the Hon. Arthur Laing (Editor: another UBC alumnus whose biography appears here).
An achievement for Leonard during his appointment in Ottawa was the part he played in amending the National Housing Act in 1968 so that it included Indian reserves. Leonard recollects that it was Jean Chretien who as the new Minister introduced the bill but it was drafted largely by Art Laing, who felt strongly that Indians need more direct control over their lives. This legislation led to improved housing for thousands of Indian families. Another achievement was in being asked to recommend the first Indian member of the Territorial Council of the North West Territories (John Tetlitchi Charlie). These and other achievements were recognized when he was selected during the Centennial Celebrations in 1967 as one of fifty Outstanding Young Canadians, having been nominated by Art Laing. The honour included an invitation to have dinner with the Queen at Rideau Hall.
He was persuaded in 1968 to stand as a Liberal candidate for the Kamloops-Cariboo riding, encouraged and assisted by UBC Aggies Sandy McCurrach, Nick Kalyk and Mack Bryson. Prime Minister Trudeau and Art Laing travelled to Kamloops to aid his campaign. He won the seat, the first Indian ever elected to the Commons. An early honour in the House was being asked by the Prime Minister to second the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne. This was his maiden speech. In it he referred to former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and acknowledged the part he played in extending the right to vote to the Indian people.
During the 1968-79 period Leonard served initially as a Parliamentary Secretary in several ministries and is proud of his role in bringing about a crucial change in Government policy towards aboriginal peoples; a change that eventually led to the Nisga’a treaty being signed into law. However, he still found time for research and together with Alastair MacLean in 1972 co-authored an Agriculture Canada publication on Grassland Ranges in the Southern Interior of British Columbia. In 1968 he was recognized by the Canada Jaycees as one of Canada’s Very Outstanding Young Men. In 1976 he became Minister of State for Small Business, then Minister of the Environment in 1977. His scientific background provided him with the necessary expertise to deal with prevailing environmental problems such as effects of acid rain on soils and forests, UBC professors including Ian MacTaggert-Cowan and Vernon (Bert) Brink, whom Leonard knew from his college days, being among those sought out as advisers. Other legislation that he introduced included metric conversion and in 1978 he urged the Government to lead the way in paper recycling. However his most important accomplishment as Minister of the Environment and the most significant achievement of his whole career in public life – in his own assessment – was quashing the attempt to put an oil port on the BC coast at Kitimat (because of the potential environmental damage that it posed).
The defeat of the Liberal Government in 1979 meant a change of job for Leonard. He and his family moved back to Kamloops and he took on the post of chief administrator for the Nicola Valley Indian Administration. In 1984 he was appointed to the Senate and moved back to Ottawa with wife Donna, leaving his children Lori and Len as students at UBC. There he busied himself on committee work relating to several issues affecting the common good, for instance assisting aboriginal veterans to ensure that they received due recognition. In 1996 the Government of Canada established the Aboriginal Veterans Scholarship Trust, to which young people of native ancestry can apply for assistance in their education. His successful Senate career ended in 1998 when Leonard resigned his seat due to a health problem.
In addition to the honours mentioned above Leonard Marchand received the Order of Canada and an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University College of the Cariboo. In his book “Breaking Trail” Dr Marchand stresses the importance of education “get every bit of education you can. Learn, because learning is power; it is how you come to have choices about what you will do and where you will go; it is about how you become free.” Perhaps that is the greatest message contained in his book.
In 2008 Dr Marchand received one of the nine LFS Centenary Awards which recognized the outstanding achievements of UBC alumni. His children, Lori Anne Marchand and Len Marchand Jr. received the award on his behalf.
Leonard Marchand left his mark on Canada and is an outstanding role model for all young people.