Melanie Mark became the first woman from a First Nation to be elected to the B.C. legislature earlier this year.
PowHERhouse celebrates Melanie Mark – mother, leader, advocate and role model.
Melanie is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway and a proud mother of 2 girls. She was born and raised in East Vancouver. She has dedicated herself to be an active volunteer for the past 20 years and a Strong Voice on behalf of the culturally diverse, innovative, and resilient citizens residing in Vancouver Mount Pleasant.
Describe your Mission. What’s it all about for you?
I want to live in a society where our actions are measured against our human rights. I want to live in a society where people are encouraged and empowered to fight for their human rights.
I want to live in a society that has the fortitude and creativity to take the massive steps that are required to transform the current circumstances of the most vulnerable people in our society – that of the Indigenous people of Canada, a population that has been over-represented in our criminal justice and child welfare systems for far too long.
I want to live in a society where the government of the day has the courage to implement independent reviews and report recommendations that aim to benefit us all socially, economically and environmentally.
The bottom line is that our society can’t afford to be apathetic on complex issues like violence, poverty, gentrification and climate change. I want to hear less talk and more action. I want the future to be bright for my daughters and society as a whole.
What is the social impact you are looking to make, your legacy?
I have heard from hundreds of people, but mostly youth, who feel like their lives are worthless, like their lives are less valued than others, that they are better off dead.
The social impact I am aiming for fosters a strong sense of belonging in all of our communities, makes room for everyone in our backyards to have a home or at the very least a roof over their head, and inspires people young and old to thrive. In other words, my legacy will focus on empowering people to stay alive and thrive – not simply survive.
Describe what success looks like – complete fruition.
Success is about having the courage to reinvent yourself. It’s all about perseverance. Success is about having a goal and completing it – no matter how hard it was, or how many times you wanted to give up or felt that you would fail. It is critical that we all have goals. Equally important, when we meet or exceed our goals, we need to embrace our achievements, and when we fail at meeting our goals, we need take stock of the valuable lessons that can be learned.
Biggest highlight in your journey thus far?
My two daughters Maya and Makayla are the sunshine in my life. They restored a sense of happiness and balance in my life after almost three decades of trials, trauma and turmoil.
With respect to my career, my work with Save the Children Canada for the Sacred Lives report was an incredible journey. I had the chance to meet amazingly resilient and thoughtful sexually exploited youth in twenty-two communities all across Canada. That journey exposed me to the darkness of our humanity and fueled my spirit to fight for the rights of vulnerable kids.
When I had the chance to work with the RCMP as a summer student in Hazelton B.C., it was the first time in my life that I had the chance to live on a reserve and connect with the land and the people. That opportunity gave me the chance to embrace my cultural identity.
When I became a child and youth advocate with the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not only did the opportunity allow me to be a voice for young people like myself and young kids like my siblings who had been impacted by the child welfare system, but I also had the tremendous opportunity to work with and learn from the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
Making history to become the first First Nations woman to be elected in the B.C. Legislative Assembly was beyond my wildest dreams. Wearing my grandmother’s button blanket while walking into the B.C. Legislature to the beat of First Nations drumming was exhilarating, to say the least.
Best advice ever received?
The best advice that I have ever received was while training in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and jujutsu. The lesson is, “if you aim at nothing – you will hit it every time.” As I mentioned earlier, having goals is essential. Goals give us something to strive towards, something to look forward to and somewhere to give focus.
How would you describe what brings you the greatest joy in your new role?
In my new role as a B.C. New Democrat MLA, I hear from a diverse group of people. I hear from people young and old, many who are thriving and many who are enduring incredible hardships. The greatest joy over the beginning of this journey has been meeting with people that I can inspire, give hope to and advocate for.
What would you like women to most understand or consider – on a higher level – with regards to your role and the impact you are looking to make.
It is important for all of us to recognize that all of our lives are impacted by public policy. Whether it is at school, in the workplace, through the justice or healthcare systems, our lives are impacted by laws and policies that govern our well-being. There are only 85 seats in the B.C. Legislature, and it is my hope that those seats are reflective of the diverse communities for which we live in. With that being said, women have fought hard for the right to vote, and for our rights to be realized, we must exercise these rights by voting and being active participants in the democratic process.
It is critical for more women to step into leadership positions in and for their communities – on boards, in business and in politics. What needs to be done in order to encourage more women to put themselves forward for these roles?
We need to train women to think and act like high-performing leaders and agents of change, and this leadership development needs to start at birth. We know that safe and affordable childcare can help in this regard, so can access to education, but we must take things a step further and advocate for a fairer division of time and resources between parties (male/female/transgendered) raising families or sharing households. In other words, if you are too busy cleaning the house and raising the family while your partner is achieving his or her goals, I recommend that you advocate for a fairer schedule that affords you the time to take part in initiatives that you are passionate about.
Your story is so inspiring. You have used your past to understand so many moving parts of an environment that can either build strong women or tear them down. Can you please share with us your thoughts on how your experience growing up has prepared you to be a leader rather than holding you back?
In many ways, I was groomed to fail and groomed for poverty. I have been in the trenches and have seen the dark side of our humanity.
When I was young and my mom attended Alcoholics Anonymous, I memorized the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, give me the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Once I was old enough, and with the help of counseling and guidance, I learned that the only thing that was stopping me from succeeding was the darkness that I thought I was destined for. Once I was able to embrace a brighter perspective, the serenity prayer helped me set and achieve my goals and aspirations.
PowHERhouse is passionate to respectfully invite Aboriginal women to our movement. We want to welcome Indigenous women to the pages of our magazine, to our PowHERtalks stages, and to our upcoming lifestyle + leadership show. It is important to celebrate positive role models from all cultures. It is important to demonstrate to girls and young women the power of strong, confident, positive women – through the power of media – and the impact we can make.
How do you balance between being an impactful community leader, a busy wife & Mom, volunteer and so much more without dodging your own self-care?
When I first started getting involved in community, I think people took notice and saw my capacity to take on numerous tasks and responsibilities. In many ways, it gave me a sense of belonging and value, but there were times when I took on too much to the point that my life was definitely imbalanced.
There is so much work to be done to make our world a better place, and we can all be paying it forward every minute of our lives – but at what cost?
As a single parent of two young girls, I have had to learn how to say no and to not succumb to guilt. Instead of saying yes to everything now, I often ask myself: Does the initiative help to achieve my goal? What is the purpose? Is it within my role? Can I bring my daughters? It is not always easy to advocate for our own self-care, but in the end, it is imperative.
You must have some pretty long days. How do you keep your energy up and your focus consistent? How you stay PowHERful and on the top of your game?
I have always had the feeling like life is short. I am always trying to pack in as many tasks in my day. I am roughly 90 percent extroverted and ten percent introverted. To maintain balance and to be on top of my game, I need pockets of silence when no one is asking me for anything. I also have a work-hard-play-hard work ethic, so after a stretch of working really hard, I carve out time for the things I find fun like eating at my favorite restaurants, catching up with friends, going out dancing, or connecting with the land by going camping. To maintain optimal energy levels I try not to drink coffee after noon, I eat fish at least twice per week and graze throughout the day to avoid the crash. Every so often I sneak in a little power nap when my mind is racing with creative ideas.
What would you say your Top 3 Excellence Habits are (ie. habits that ensure your success).
- Be proactive: Whether you are trying to tackle a systemic issue or launch a creative idea to solve a problem. Speak up and reach out, your attributes will shine.
- Be a team player: My experience playing rugby taught me that the ball doesn’t reach the goal line running solo. If you have something to offer your colleagues, get it out there. Being generous with your expertise will help to achieve the end game that many of us are trying to get to. You have to be all in!
- Be curious: I have been surrounded by incredible mentors that have allowed me the time to ask lots of questions. It’s important to have an open mind, be open to learning and know that learning is a life-long process. We can never know too much about an issue, none of us are know-it-all’s.
Describe your Top 3 Time Management Tips as they relate to your Mission.
- If I don’t write it down, it won’t happen. For this reason, I still carry an old school day planner. It helps me to see the days, weeks and months ahead in a way that online calendars can’t seem to do justice.
- I also carry post-it notes in my purse and a highlighter.
- To help me stay focused and to make me feel like I am accomplishing my tasks I have ongoing to-do lists. It gives me a great feeling of joy to know that I am meeting my goals, and the best way to know that I am not procrastinating is to mark tasks as complete.
Describe collaboration and what the looks like/feels like on the ground – how does it show up in your life?
Respect is earned and respect is also a two-way street – it’s reciprocal. I respect other people’s worldviews and perspectives; In fact, I welcome hearing other people’s opinions even if they are not in line with mine. Collaboration is about pulling ideas together, debating the pros and cons and weighing out what ideas are going to best serve the common goal. One can’t listen and talk at the same time, so collaboration is about being present. The process of collaboration may also mean saying what needs to be said – I call this the moose in the room – it involves sharing the uncomfortable message to address the undercurrent of a problem. Collaboration can lead to incredible outcomes and is an integral part of my day-to-day activity.
Describe a favourite hobby or adventure.
I love to travel. I love road trips and camping. I love being connected to the land, to be by the water, to hear and smell the crackling of a log on the fire. I love singing out loud and unleashing my inner child every chance that I get. I also love playing pool.
Favourite energy meal or snack (healthy).
Chunky salad: Mixed greens, hard-boiled eggs, candied pecans, cranberries, homemade dressing (found online of course), goat cheese and avocado.
Favourite indulgence or treat.
Caramel apple with nuts or chocolate banana cream pie.
Top 3 things on your Bucket List.
Scotland, New Zealand, Croatia
What does giving back (fulfillment) look like to you?
I have been paying it forward to local NGOs for years either with time, food, gently used goods or money. It makes me feel good to give back- especially to people that are fleeing domestic violence, or youth transitioning to adulthood or to the homeless. I also always have time for the young people that I have encountered throughout my life. It gives me a great feeling of fulfillment to see young people on the streets, on the skytrain, in their communities, excited to tell me about their adventures, their new job, their success at school, their new families, or their aspirations.
I never leave home without……..
A good attitude, lip-gloss, my cell phone and my day planner.
Your thoughts on mentoring young women? What do you feel your most valuable lessons to pass on are?
I was categorized as a tomboy when I was very young. I grew up with a lot of boys, brothers and cousins. The most valuable lesson that I learned is that girls are just as good as boys.
Where do we go from here in terms of supporting and inspiring women to step-up and continue moving forward with their missions… regardless of how hard it may feel at times. #confidence #courage #connections #capital
Ask yourself: Are you happy with the world around you? What’s happening in your backyard, in your community? Then ask yourself: Do you want to be a champion for the status quo or do you want to be a champion for change?
No matter what you do in your life, have passion! Your passion will fuel your spirit when you are feeling discouraged or dis-empowered and will give you warrior strength to push forward.
The bottom line is, the change that I want to see in my lifetime will require us to paddle together in the spirit of reconciliation, with a warrior spirit and strength, and with the determination and understanding that people’s lives depend on it.