If you’ve ever walked down Commercial Drive in East Vancouver you were likely to pass by Frank Williams and Randy Williams, two Nuu-chah-nulth brothers who liked to hang out in front of the hardware store.
They both recently died. And Nisga’a MLA Melanie Mark gave a moving tribute to them in the B.C. legislature.
“The brothers were renowned on the Drive for their beautiful carvings and their generous spirit,” Mark said earlier this month. “Many of us benefited from a humorous anecdote, a kind word or helpful advice from Frank and Danse over the years.”
Despite their warm hearts and friendly personalities, the brothers had hard lives.
“As children, they were taken away to residential school and, after that, passed through various foster homes. Entering adulthood, they and their sisters and brothers had little of the opportunity many of us in this chamber would have taken for granted. Throughout their lives, Frank and Danse endured what many in this chamber will never know,” Mark said.
The MLA’s comments come as people across the province and the country reckon with the discovery outside of unmarked graves of 215 children outside Kamloops, which has reignited discussion of the residential school system in Canada.
“Their death certificates don’t say it, but these two remarkable men died victims of systemic anti-Indigenous racism,” Mark said. “Recently this House has taken its first steps in accounting for the profound harms that racism inflicted on Frank and Danse and the thousands more who suffered early, heartbreaking deaths and those thousands who live amongst us in our communities.”
Mark went on, “The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was only the starting point. I urge all members to every day remind themselves that there is much more to our journey, to every day ask themselves: what more can we do to realize the promise that we’ve made?”
Mark is the first First Nations female to be elected to the legislature. She “is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree, Ojibway, French and Scottish”, her website explains. She grew up in East Vancouver but has “family ties to Northern British Columbia.”