Melanie Mark, 1st First Nations woman to serve in B.C. Legislature, resigns with blistering speech
'This place felt like a torture chamber,' said Mark. 'I will not miss the character assassination'
Melanie Mark, the first First Nations woman to serve in the British Columbia Legislature and as a cabinet minister, has resigned.
Holding an eagle feather and wearing her grandfather's beaded mooseskin coat, Mark, MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, broke into tears and pulled no punches about her experiences in provincial politics, saying that "institutions fundamentally resist change ... particularly colonial institutions like this Legislative Assembly and government at large."
"This place felt like a torture chamber," she said. "I will not miss the character assassination."
Speaking with reporters after the speech, Mark described the opposition as "absolutely awful."
"The nastiness from white men in here is awful," she said. "I've put up with enough abuse in my life."
"People have called me a bitch," she said. "You can call me anything, but don't ever call me a stupid bitch. I'm educated, I've worked hard for my career my whole life, I have all the credentials, I deserve to be here."
Mark said she was recently diagnosed with ADHD, short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It's a common neurological disorder, which is often misdiagnosed in girls and can lead to mental health issues in adulthood.
"I'm interpreted as someone who's crazy, angry," she said.
"The challenge is a neurological disorder. And my brain is brilliant. I have a super power."
Mark — of Nisga'a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway ancestry — was first elected in 2016 and served as minister of advanced education, skills, and training and then tourism minister until September 2022, when she stepped down from the portfolio for medical leave "to focus on pressing and urgent personal matters."
In her speech in the Legislature, Mark urged less partisanship and emphasized the importance of education, noting she was the first member of her family to graduate from university.
She spoke about growing up in the Skeena projects in East Vancouver and about her parents, who both lived with alcohol and substance addiction, citing multi-generational scars and trauma left by Indian residential schools and the foster care system.
Mark said she will continue to use her "big mouth" to speak for those who are silenced.
"I have been an advocate in public for 27 years, and I'll continue to advocate and fight from outside of this House ... to speak up for the voiceless and for those who don't vote," she said.
She thanked the many supporters and family members who were present in the gallery for her speech, including her two daughters and mother.
She said she plans to spend more time with her children, and support her daughter in her athletic pursuits.
"Enough Indigenous kids have lived without their parents, and I'm not going to do that," she said.
Mark said she'll make her resignation official by the end of next month. An NDP spokesperson said a date for a byelection has not yet been set.
'Hard to be in those spaces'
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who served as MP for Nunavut from 2019 to 2021, says Mark's situation reminds her of what she went through while working in government.
"When I see things like this, it only reminds me of all the things wrong with the country and it's still something that really eats at me all the time," she said.
"When I see people strong enough like this to be able to say no and step away, this isn't for me, I can only say hats off because it's really hard to be in those spaces."
She said the history of the Indian Act has made it difficult for people like her and Mark to not just thrive, but survive in politics and in life.
"Canada has a whole different set of rules written for her, whole set of rules written different for me, whole different set of rules written for Indigenous peoples," Qaqqaq said.
"I think of all the Indigenous politicians that have been in the national eye at some point, they have all been extremely let down."
Premier David Eby said Mark brought her life experience to the legislature and made sure it was part of her work on behalf of the people of B.C.
"She changed this place," he said. "She changed this province."
Opposition Liberal House Leader Todd Stone said Mark is a trailblazer who has paved the way for more Indigenous people in the legislature.
"She is someone who always brought that passion to the work she does," he said.
Green Party House Leader Adam Olsen, who is Indigenous, said Mark made the legislature a more welcoming place for all people.
"Today, I'm sad we have one less paddle in our community," he said.
with files from Courtney Dickson, Liam Britten, Meera Bains and The Canadian Press