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Metro: Explaining Aboriginals’ mixed feelings on voting in Canada

August 27, 2015 — 

Niigaanwewidam (Nigaan) James Sinclair is the Department Head of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, and a new columnist at the Metro newspaper. Here is part of a column that was originally published on Aug. 23.  


Last month Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called on indigenous peoples to “get out and vote” in this fall’s election.

If First Nations voters “send the strong message this time around that our votes matter,” Bellegarde declared, “it could have a huge impact.”

Hundreds of indigenous leaders have followed suit, and this election is expected to see the highest participation of First Nations voters since Prime Minister Diefenbaker gave us the right in 1960. In addition, many indigenous candidates are running for office.

Indigenous issues are mentioned regularly during campaign stops.

Long ignored, indigenous peoples are a part of today’s national electoral conversation. The challenge is that many First Nations do not vote for legitimate reasons.

Some don’t believe parties’ promises of funding for currently inequitable education and health systems, inquiries into murdered and missing indigenous women or justice for long-standing land claims. So they don’t see a viable option. Many reasons, however, go much deeper.

A big one is that many indigenous peoples maintain the position (via documents like treaties) that First Nations are autonomous nations — and to vote in another nation is like a French voter voting in a Belgium election.

Another is that Canada continues to institute an ongoing cycle of violence (see: the oppressive Indian Act), and for indigenous people to participate in a system that refuses to change is to be complicit in their own abuse.

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