Former MP says the ‘blood sport’ of politics shouldn’t discourage Indigenous people

‘You have to know what the compromises will be,’ says Ethel Blondin Andrew.

British Columbia MLA Melanie Mark got people talking when she tearfully announced her resignation from the provincial legislature – citing encounters with “vile” and “rude” cohorts, as well as experiences with “character assassination.”

“I just never imagined that’s what it would be like as an elected official,” Mark told APTN News earlier this week.

But Ethel Blondin Andrew told APTN’s Nation to Nation Mark’s resignation is B.C.’s loss.

“Let’s be honest here – politics is a blood sport,” said Blondin Andrew. “If you expect something of Parliamentary lifestyle, and thinking, and working, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into. You really have to know what you’re sacrificing. You really have to know what the compromises will be.

“I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s the best – but I’m saying it is what it is. That’s what politics is. It’s tough.”

Blondin Andrew, 71, is Dene and was born in Tulita, N.W.T. At the age of 8, she was sent to Grollier Hall, a residential school in Inuvik.

Blondin Andrew made history in 1988 when she became the first Indigenous woman elected to Canada’s Parliament in the former riding called Western Arctic. She gave her first speech in the House of Commons in Dene.

After winning again in 1993, she achieved another first after being the first Indigenous woman appointed to a cabinet position under former prime minister Jean Chretien.

Mark is not the only Indigenous woman who quit politics and feels they’ve faced retribution.

In her farewell speech, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq – former NDP MP for Nunavut – accused the federal government of “creating barriers” for Indigenous people.

“Every time I walk onto the House of Commons grounds and speak in these chambers, I am reminded every step of the way I do not belong here,” Qaqqaq told the house back in June 2021.

As another example, former Liberal candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould believes she was ousted from the party after refusing to bow to pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his office, the top public servant, and others who wanted to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavallin on bribery charges.

Speaking to Nation to Nation, Blondin Andrew makes no bones about it: there will always be run-off of colonial attitudes in what is, for all intents and purposes, a colonial government.

But she doesn’t feel those attitudes – or Mark’s recent experience – should deter Indigenous people from considering a career in politics.

“It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get up,” Blondin Andrew explained.

“I want our people at the UN, I want our people all over, in different categories. I want them at the world economic forum, they should be at COP16 – I want to see the legislatures full of our people,” she added.

“[But] you’ve got to go toe-to-toe and stand with people. And you have to be like Dr. Seuss. You have to be what you say, and say what you mean. And that’s the way it is.”

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