Melanie Mark has become the first-ever First Nations woman elected to the BC Legislature, and her win has been celebrated by Indigenous people and supporters throughout Canada. “Today is another milestone in the history of the Nisga’a people and for Aboriginal women across British Columbia,” said H. Mitchell Stevens, President of Nisga’a Lisims Government.
Melanie Mark is of Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Ojibway, and Cree ancestry. She was raised in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by parents who struggled with addiction and a father who died of an overdose. A single mother and the former president of the Urban Native Youth Association, she is now the new NDP MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” she said. Ms. Mark joins Jody Wilson-Raybould (the first Indigenous female Minister of Justice) and Carole James (the first Metis MLA) as prominent Indigenous politicians in BC.
After all the ballots were counted, Mark won with a commanding NDP stronghold in the Mount Pleasant riding (5,353 votes at 61%). Trailing distantly was Green Party candidate Pete Fry with 2,325 votes at 26%, followed by the Liberal Party’s Gavin Dew with 994 votes and 11%. Ms. Mark succeeds Jenny Kwan, who resigned the seat in advance of her successful run for Parliament as the NDP candidate in Vancouver East.
“It’s exciting to see that happen with Indigenous women in BC,” says Wab Kinew, acclaimed Indigenous educator, author, and activist—one of an increasing number of First Nations people to throw his hat into the ring of Canadian politics. Kinew has announced his candidacy for the Manitoba NDP in this year’s provincial election.
The first Aboriginal man ever elected to a legislature in Canada was Frank Calder. He was elected in the BC constituency of Atlin in 1949 and remained in office until 1979. But it wouldn’t be until 1978 that Len Marchand, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, would become the first Indigenous member in the House of Commons. The second Aboriginal man elected was Larry Guno, a lawyer and playwright who represented Atlin from 1986 to 1991.
Ms. Mark focused her campaign on achieving a fairer deal for low-income people, highlighting the lack of affordable housing, the precarious job market, and rising costs of tuition, medical-services, and BC Hydro fees. She wrote on a website before the elections, “I was raised in social housing in East Van, and I moved more than 30 times in my life.”
It will be people like Melanie Mark who ensure the history books don’t look as bleak another 100 years from now. “It’s always scary, as you can imagine, to stand up and fight power when you don’t come from privilege,” Mark said at a campaign event. “And people say if you’re a leader you can’t be emotional.” Mark said she can’t wait to fight.