Elections taking place here and there, winners proclaimed, while there is still electioneering taking place, hoping for winners. Oh, yes, elections can be very exciting.

How many of you remember when the very first “Indian” was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a Liberal Party candidate for the B.C. riding of Kamloops-Cariboo?

Leonard Stephen Marchand called himself an Indian man, that was what he wanted to be called. That was long before the new age words “Aboriginal” or “First Nations” became popular.

Marchand was not too fond on talking about being Indian. He says, “We never talk much about being Indians on my home reserve, we do not go around wearing a head dress or saying “I am an Indian,” we are Indians, fine, so what!

Being Indian in the 1960s was either a political issue, or as Marchand tells it, we are Indians, fine, so what! To Marchand, being Indian was being proud of who he is, of what he had to offer to his people, his family or to the world. Back then, some of the people were ashamed to be called Indian; some of them denied being Indian. They either claimed to be Spanish, or other ethnic people. But not Indian. Why?

Perhaps due to racial conflict, who knows?

One thing for sure, when Marchand was chosen to run against a high profile Progressive Conservative candidate E.Davie Fulton, the picture changed. Everyone who was ashamed of being Indian, now said, “I am an Indian man, I am an Indian woman, we are Indians.”

Marchand commends part of his success, to Band Counselor James Bonneau, his uncle, who told him, “Do things yourself, look after yourself, do not depend on the government.” He said, his uncle’s words inspired him, as he talked of the Indian way of life, the way our ancestors lived and the pride they had in being independent. Back then we got along in this world as individuals, being mindful of nature and its importance to the independence of the Okanagan people.

The wise words of Bonneau, are the same words I heard my own dad say many times. Do things yourself, do not depend on someone else to do the work for you. Many of our old people had the same philosophy, we knew our independence meant a lot, and we were told, do not lose your independence, if you depend on the government for your well being, you will no longer be free.

When Marchand was approached by his friends to run as a candidate, his reply was, “Who me, run against Davie Fulton? Are you crazy?” But his friends who believed in him, told him, “No, really, you have a chance, you are educated, your reputation is good, you are known to be responsible.”

Len, as he was fondly known by most people, did not have experience in campaigning, he never was active in politics, he says, “politics is just people isn’t it ? You elect a man, not a politician.”

Election campaigns cost money. Len remembers his campaign chairman was in charge of raising the money, he himself not knowing where the money came from.

People heard he was running for a government seat, so they came from all over. Some just came in off the street kicking in fifty cents, twenty five cents, sometimes two or three dollars.

These people that gave knew when he was elected Marchand would be speaking on their behalf. They raised well over $1,000, which was a lot of money in the 1960s.

Come voting day the air was filled with electricity, hot sparks flying all over the place, people laughing or singing or even dancing on the streets, while others, overwhelmed with sheer happiness, just sat back and cried.

Len remembers, he was encouraged all the way, but at one point, he says, “We were all sort of down in the mouth, as the first results were being called, we were behind in the polls, but after six or seven polls, we started to pull ahead.”

The fellow who was bringing the reports of the results was just about hitting the ceiling from sheer happiness as Len climbed in the polls.

On June 3, 1968, Trudeau mania hit town, over nine thousand people turned out to see and hear Pierre Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau went to Kamloops to give Len his support. I remember being there, and I even had the opportunity to shake Mr. Trudeau’s hand as he stopped to speak to us members from Merritt. We all had placards showing our support for Len and our town, Merritt on it.

Marchand won with over 3,000 votes. He says later, he thinks he might have won on his own, but Trudeau’s visit certainly helped.

He was the first status Indian to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons as Liberal member. At the time, Canadians were not accustomed to seeing an Indian politician on the campaign trail, or serving at any level of government.

“I am the first Indian to sit as a member in the House of Commons and I am conscious of my responsibilities,” Marchand was quoted as saying.

“I have an obligation, which I could not escape if I wished to, and that is my obligation to my fellow Indians. I am an Indian who is a Member of Parliament. I am not just the Indian people’s member, but I must speak on their behalf.”

Marchand honoured his people, as well as the non-native people. He was a true politician. He brought honour, dignity, and respect to the Okanagan nation. We are eternally proud of you Len. Thank you. May other young people who have dreams of change, dare to step out and make the change.