VICTORIA – Drummers, dancers and politicians welcomed the first woman from a First Nation to be elected to British Columbia’s legislature in an emotional ceremony that saw Melanie Mark wipe away tears.
Mark wore her grandmother’s traditional red and black button blanket to the official swearing-in ceremony Wednesday at the legislature that included welcoming songs from members of the Nisga’a Nation from northwest B.C.
Mark, one of two Opposition New Democrats to win byelections earlier this month, described the experience as empowering and a symbol the province’s move towards reconciliation with aboriginal people.
“This is such a surreal moment for me,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it’s less than a year ago I decided to run. Here we are making history. It’s really a testament of where British Columbia wants to go, and that’s really about reconciliation.”
Legislative Clerk Craig James said Mark and Jodie Wickens represent the 101st and 102nd women elected to B.C.’s legislature since 1917, when women received the right to vote and run for office.
Mark was elected in the riding of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and Wickens, who was also sworn in Wednesday, won the suburban riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.
James said B.C. women now make up 38 per cent of members in the 85-seat legislature, the highest female representation in a Canadian legislature.
Mark, 40, overcame sexual abuse, family trauma and poverty to become a noted childhood and family advocate in her Vancouver eastside neighbourhood.
She once worked at Vancouver International Airport telling tourists about noted B.C. Haida artist Bill Reid and served as a deputy at the office of the province’s independent children’s representative.
“This is a very moving day for me,” Mark said. “I’ve had lots of tears of hope and there’s a lot of strength behind me. I’m riding off all the strength behind me today, including my grandmother whose regalia I’m wearing.”
Attorney General Suzanne Anton welcomed Mark and Wickens to the legislature.
Anton noted that B.C.’s rich tradition of electing female politicians is continuing.
“When you look at the women in this province, the lieutenant-governor is a woman. The premier is a woman. The speaker of the legislature is a woman. We’ve got senior cabinet ministers who are women,” Anton said. “Women have done well in B.C. and I’m very proud of that fact.”
B.C. has previously elected two male aboriginal members — Frank Calder and Larry Guno — while current New Democrat Carole James and former Liberal Marc Dalton are Metis.