Today’s appointment of Leonard Marchand to the ranks of Canada’s top justices is less remarkable than the mundane tone of the announcement.

The new Chief Justice of British Columbia and Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal of Yukon “is a highly respected member of British Columbia and Canada’s legal community,” said the anodyne statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “He brings a wealth of experience to the position and will continue to serve the people of British Columbia and the Yukon well.”

Chief Justice Leonard Marchand, Supreme Court of British Columbia. Photo credit: handout

What Trudeau did not trumpet is that Marchand is Syilx and a member of the Okanagan Indian Band. For that detail, you had to click past the press statement to find it buried in Marchand’s biographical note.

So what?


So what.


The fact that the top justice in the West is Indigenous is no big deal.

When an Indigenous person reaches the country’s top ranks, Ottawa no longer shouts the news from the rooftops. Others soon made a big deal of Justice Marchand’s Indigenous status–but it seems the federal government has matured from gushing First Whatever stories.

The national shrug is not because high achievement by an Indigenous person has become boring. But the fact that it’s so common that it can go unremarked reveals an absolutely massive shift in Canadian culture.

Few are still alive from the generation that allowed Canada, in 1927, to ban lawyers from even representing Indigenous peoples. Under Section 141 of the Indian Act, a section that was only repealed in 1951, Indigenous people required government permission to proceed with a legal claim.

As recently as 1967, notes the Canadian Encyclopedia, “there were only 200 Indigenous students enrolled in Canadian universities out of a total Indigenous student population of about 60,000.

Today Aboriginal Law is a major part of Canadian legal education and practice. Today, having a judge or lawyer who hails from one of Canada’s first peoples is normal.  Today, it’s easy to forget that Canada’s first Indigenous Justice Minister has already come and gone. Reports of Justice Marchand’s appointment only mentioned in passing that his father, also Leonard Marchand, was the first Indigenous person  elected as a Member of Parliament, in 1968. Today, when almost everyone uses terms like “Indigenous” or “First Nations,” most find it jarring that Canada’s major piece of legislation affecting Indigenous peoples is still called the Indian Act. Today, few might even notice that Canada’s Governor General, Mary Simon, is Indigenous.

But in fact, the very normality of Indigenous achievement is shockingly new.

“The Government of Canada is working to advance reconciliation and renew the relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”

I am of a generation who experienced Canada’s residential school system first hand. I graduated as a non-Indigenous day student from Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife, attached to Akaitcho Hall. The hall, and school, were run from 1958 to the mid 1990s by the federal and then territorial governments instead of churches, and were possibly the least egregious (and even beneficial) of Canada’s residential schools. But the fact is, my high school was part of the destructive system designed to assimilate and extinguish the Indigenous cultures of this vast land.

That grotesque shame went unacknowledged, until quite recently. It’s quite recent that almost all governments-prodded by major court rulings such as Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia-tout their work, as the federal government describes it, “to advance reconciliation and renew the relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”

It’s recent that government documents, such as a recent report on demographics, commonly use the word “genocide,” which used to be explosively controversial, to describe Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Canada is very far from perfect. In the justice system, for example, Indigenous persons in trouble with the law are far more common than Indigenous legal professionals. One 2022 federal report notes,  “more than 30% of inmates in Canadian prisons are Indigenous – even though [Indigenous Peoples] make up just 5% of the country’s population.”

The pace of change is far too slow. But we need to notice that change is possible. Too many are malcontents, complaining bitterly from our armchairs. Many others have no perspective of how hard previous generations worked to effect change.

The phrase “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” comes to mind. Amid the bad, it’s possible to find the good.

It is good that the First Nations identity of a judge is so mundane it hardly bears noting. It should be normal for Indigenous Canadians to hold any role, in any field. And Marchand’s appointment adds to the proof of change that is dramatic and even, in the sweep of time, swift.

So … what?

So to see proof of change-to witness success-is to see that the fight for change is worth the effort.


Cover Photo: Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa. Copyright Deborah Jones, 2018


How the Indian Act’s ‘blackout period’ denied Indigenous Peoples their legal rights.  Amy Swiffen, The Conversation, Oct. 11 2022

The rise of Aboriginal law. Kerry Banks, University Affairs, Sept. 05, 2018

Education of Indigenous Peoples, Canadian Encyclopedia (online)



Curious free range human. Creative writer, journalist, photographer