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Breaking Trail

by Len Marchand with Matt Hughes

Len Marchand has struggled for native rights throughout his political career. Breaking Trail chronicles his 33 years in politics; he started in 1965, as a 31-year-old minister’s assistant in the Liberal party, and finished in 1998 as a retired senator. As a work of political history, Breaking Trail does an excellent job of chronicling the struggle for native justice in Canada. However, this is an autobiography – a form that demands more narrative and emotional engagement.

The underlying theme in Marchand’s book is a lesson learned at his father’s side, growing up on an Okanagan native reserve. Before plowing a farm owner’s tomato fields, Marchand expressed some apprehension at the task. Without sympathy, his father sternly responded, “Don’t make a fool of yourself.” Those words have kept Marchand from the temptation to allow the heart to rule the mind, and have guided his actions throughout his political life and in the writing of this book. This has made for a well-managed, safe, and productive career, but – unfortunately for the reader – a rather dull autobiography.

From the first chapter, “Hey Indian,” about his childhood on the reserve and early education, Marchand is emotionally detached. A life spent fighting for a “seat at the table” for one’s people should make for an interesting read, and in some sections

Marchand does show signs of life. However, a dry overintellectualization sets in too early and too often for the reader to invest any emotion in Marchand’s struggle.

Without an early sense of empathy and connection, the challenges Marchand faced as a young, forward-thinking, and fearless native student and politician become less dramatic and interesting. Breaking Trail takes emotion out of the picture and leaves behind the track record of a good but hardly extraordinary political career. What could have been an engrossing and moving first-hand account of a native perspective on Canada turns out to be a safe, steady, and average book of history.