The first First Nations woman elected to the B.C. legislature and to serve in cabinet, is stepping away from politics, citing her recent diagnosis of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
Melanie Mark also said her two children, age 12 and 19, come first.
“Enough Indigenous kids have gone without their parents and I’m not going to do that,” she said during a joint news conference with Premier David Eby. “My kids get one chance at a childhood and our family is going through some medical challenges right now.”
Almost two hours earlier, Mark had wiped away tears after receiving a standing ovation from her family in the gallery and all members of the provincial legislature. That followed a speech where she recounted her personal journey from the streets of East Vancouver to the halls of power, but also slammed the institution in which she served.
Mark said she entered politics to make fundamental changes, to interrupt the status quo.
“In many ways, I have done what I came here to do,” she said. “But it’s also a fact that institutions fundamentally resist change. They are allergic to doing things differently, particularly colonial institutions like this Legislative Assembly and government at large.”
Mark said she is proud of many things she accomplished while serving in the legislature. She pointed to policies that made it easier for disadvantaged students to access post-secondary education, the launch of the first Indigenous law school at the University of Victoria and bringing various sporting events including the FIFA World Cup to British Columbia.
“But this journey has been challenging and has come at a significant personal toll,” she said. “This place felt like a torture chamber. I will not miss the character assassination.”
Mark, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, said she is not quitting, but is, instead, standing up for herself. She will continue to use her “big mouth” to speak up for the “voiceless” and “those who don’t vote, namely children, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
She also lamented the current state of partisanship and promised to take some time for herself, while caring for her two daughters, whom she called her “baby-eagles.”
Mark is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway. She was born and raised in East Vancouver. She was first elected in 2016 in a byelection. She served as minister of advanced education, skills and training as well as minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, but resigned from her position in Sept. 2022 for medical reasons.
Eby stressed Mark’s historical place.
”Melanie has changed this place forever, just by showing up in the room,” he said, adding that Mark did not just show up, she got things done.
“One of things that I admired the most about the member’s time here and her work is how she brought her life experience: who she was, her family, her friends, her relations, her work that she brought to bear in every single job she took on,” he said.
BC Liberal House Leader Todd Stone said Mark served her community and all of British Columbia in her historic role.
“She certainly blazed a trail,” he said. “We are all very hopeful that there will be a future where more Indigenous peoples will sit in this place.”
BC Green House Leader Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said Mark has done “incredible work” on behalf of British Columbians and “on behalf of our relatives” across B.C.
Olsen said Mark’s presence made it easier for him when he arrived in the legislature. Her voice was deeply necessary and her absence will be felt, he added.
“Thank you for bringing this passion to the house,” he added.
Mark showed that passion outside the legislature during her press conference, where she said she will make sure that a strong, First Nations matriarch will take her seat.
“We need more people like me to come in here and fight,” she said.
“Women get it worse from the opposition,” she said. “I’m a highly intelligent person — extremely intelligent, actually,” she said. “It made me a good advocate. But the nastiness from white men in here is awful. I put up with enough abuse in my life.”
Eby said Mark’s experiences are a challenge to everybody in the legislature, adding that Mark leaves an exceptional legacy as a mother, legislator and representative for the poorest postal code in B.C.
“It’s a reminder for all of us that we need to keep doing better, because her voice is needed here.”
Mark plans to depart the legislature by the end of March and her move will trigger a byelection. Former premier John Horgan also announed that he is leaving politics at the end of March.