B.C.’s first Indigenous woman MLA Melanie Mark to resign, calls legislature ‘a torture chamber’

B.C.'s first Indigenous woman MLA Melanie Mark to resign, calls legislature 'a torture chamber'

Melanie Mark wiped away tears as she announced she’d be stepping down from her role as MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

Two-time NDP cabinet member Mark, who is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway, was dressed in her grandfather’s beaded, buckskin jacket as she reflected on her political career while addressing the B.C. Legislature Wednesday, saying it’s taken a negative toll on her life.

“There is a lot that I’m proud of, but this journey has been challenging and has come at a significant personal toll,” she said in her resignation speech. “This place felt like a torture chamber. I will not miss the character assassination.”

In a subsequent media scrum, Mark said the backlash she received from the since-scrapped $789-million plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum was unfair.

While former B.C. Premier John Horgan issued a public apology for the way the rebuild plan was handled, Mark noted that she was targeted with harassment and abuse in the fallout.

“The people deserve a museum and the work is being done, and I took seven months of being totally annihilated over something that was my job, it was my mandate from the premier to revitalize the museum. That institution, just like this institution, is colonial and needs to be improved. That is a fact,” said an emotional Mark.

“The opposition went to town, and the media helped them just grind me to the ground. And the credit for the things that I did, I did so many amazing things. I’m sorry, but I would love some student to go write a paper on how many things that Melanie Mark did,” she continued.

“And I wish that (the media) would have covered that so that my kids could see their mom is a hero, but what (the media) presented is some dumb Indian who didn’t know how to do her job. She was incompetent.”

Mark was elected MLA in 2016 and re-elected in 2017 and 2020, keeping her role as the first female First Nations member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

“Seven years and three elections since I took my seat here, I am still the only First Nations woman to hold a seat in these chambers and serve in our cabinet. Take a moment and think about that,” she said in her speech.

Mark told the legislature she wanted to be an MLA so she could be a strong voice for her community, be a champion for change, and disrupt the status quo. 

In November 2020, she was appointed minister of tourism, art, culture and sport, but later resigned in September 2022 citing “urgent” personal matters. Prior to that role, she served as the province’s advanced education minister, helping establish the world’s first Indigenous law degree program at the University of Victoria.

RELATED: Melanie Mark resigns as tourism minister, will go on medical leave

“I wanted big systems change,” recalled Mark.

“In many ways, I have done what I came here to do, but it’s also a fact that institutions fundamentally resist change. They are allergic to do things differently, particularly colonial institutions like this legislative assembly and government at large,” she said.

In her online bio, Mark, a mom to two girls, is described as “a lifelong champion of children, youth and her community” who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in Sociology from Simon Fraser University, among other academic achievements. 

“It’s been my honour to serve, but I will continue my advocacy and fight for positive change from outside this house,” added Mark.

“I will continue using my big mouth to speak up for the voiceless and those who don’t vote, mainly children, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and Mother Earth.”

She also thanked John Horgan, B.C.’s former premier, who announced he’d be stepping down as MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca in March following a nearly 20-year run.

“One of the things that I admire most about (Mark’s) time her and her work, is how she brought her life experience, who she was, her family, her friends, her relations, her work, and she brought it to bear on every single job she took on in this legislative assembly,” said Premier David Eby following Mark’s speech.

No byelections have been called in either Horgan’s Victoria-area riding or Mark’s Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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