Sometimes he wonders if he should go back to the simple rural life for good. But then he realizes the city is home to his agent, his producer and, most important, his audience. Like many natives, but few non-natives, Leach believes that he needs both societies, that he cannot get ahead in life being the "other."
In Lillooet, natives were expected to stick to one side of an invisible line that ran through the logging town of 5,000. Leach was always determined to cross it. In high school, he led the basketball team even though most natives kept to them-selves. On the reserve, he learned to box with the native police force his father had formed, the first in the province.
Whenever he heard racist remarks on the court or in the ring, he let them roll off his back. Both communities, he learned young, had their prejudices. "Racism is racism," he says. "The only difference is we're not the dominant society."
After high school, Leach hit the road to see what lay beyond the Coast Mountains. Through Canada World Youth, he traveled to northern Thailand to pick durians on a farm for four months, and for the first time enjoyed his status as a local curiosity - not as a native but as a Westerner.
A much bigger culture shock was awaiting him on the second leg of his work project, when he was assigned to a Holstein farm in Elmvale, Ont. His hosts were a devout Christian family, and an introduction to conservative Central Canada. Although Leach had seen racial tensions in Lillooet, natives at least had a firm place on the B.C. landscape. In Elmvale, he realized how insignificant they are to a large number of Canadians.
Faced with such a challenge, aboriginal people often feel they must assimilate or run back to the reserve, but Leach feels as native in a Queen Street bar as he does in a sweat lodge.
Of course, the solitudes he crossed to reach Toronto from Lillooet have been transformed since his father's youth. Young natives today are exposed to other cultures, involved in politics and engaged in commerce at a level their parents could not have imagined. Canada has also changed, becoming more urban, more diverse and more tolerant than most would dreamed in the 1960s.
A cultural convergence is the most obvious change. It would be difficult to find a native community where satellite television has not supplanted elders as a primary source of ideas and values for chil-dren and fast foods have replaced a diet once reliant on nature (a big concern, given the new plague of adult-onset diabetes).
Leach learned some of this when he came across Big Soul Productions, a TV and film company run by a new generation of natives who see their future - a very aboriginal future - in the mainstream, not on remote reserves and in isolated cultures.
Laura Milliken, one of the company's founders, had grown up in Toronto and didn't know her own ancestry until Grade 4, when a teacher introduced her to the class as an "Indian." These days, she produces a TV series featuring successful natives for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, itself a sign of how the native presence has changed.
She also feels torn, wanting to promote her people but also succeed as an individual, which is why she isn't satisfied producing the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. She wants to do the Junos. "I hate it when anyone calls me an aboriginal producer," she says. "I'm a producer. I don't want to be pigeonholed."
Still, she and her partners seem to be working out their own solution, in the form of a new urban Indian culture. It's what much of Canada's aboriginal future will depend on.
David Newhouse, an associate professor of native studies at Trent University, has detailed just how far this generation has come and how it seems to have done it without risking that dreaded word, assimilation.
He believes that native realities are now entirely different from those of 1969 when the federal government, on the advice of Jean Chrétien, then Indian affairs minister, issued a white paper promoting assimilation. Today, Newhouse argues, natives hold a prominent, respected and distinct place in Canadian society - from an art world that recognizes Haida masks and Inuit carvings to literature that promotes Tomson Highway and Thomas King.
The transformation is a result of native confidence as well as a growing awareness in the rest of society, Newhouse argues. Self-government has become a commonly accepted term, as native communities gain control - for better or worse - of their health care, education and social services. The land-claims process, while frustratingly slow, is also irreversible. And native concerns, once locked in the ghetto of the Indian Affairs Department, are now incorporated into the work of just about every major federal department and provincial government, not to mention the Prime Minister's Office and Supreme Court of Canada.
"We have moved from an official government policy of termination and assimilation to a reluctant acceptance of the inherent right of self-government," Newhouse writes. "This shows great determination, endurance, sacrifice, capacity for hard work and integrity."