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GUEST COLUMN: First Nations and the vote

Published on

Michael Eshkibok

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is encouraging First Nations to get out and vote because it believes Native people can influence up to 51 ridings in this federal election.

First Nations issues do matter, and the only way to do something about it is to vote MPs out of office if they won’t do their job.

Canadians will not stand for violence as a way to achieve objectives. Whoever gets in, First Nations people are prepared to work with the governing party.

Members of Parliament who think First Nations issues don’t matter may be in for a rude awakening. In a democracy, the people decide who governs. The only way to make your voice count is to the vote. You will need two pieces of identification.

First Nations across Canada are very interested in closing the gap between themselves and the wider Canadian public. We, as Native people, will be paying close attention to what politicians say during this campaign. We need funding for job training, for access to potable water, housing, and investment in education. According to the United Nations human development index, Canada is rated sixth, while the Indian reservation system is 63rd.

First Nations need to be properly involved in issues that involve them, and communication is key if we are all to move ahead.

Statements by Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party have been well received in the Native community. They support a national inquiry for Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and the action plan of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Native children who died in the Indian residential school system. When Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt did nothing to build a relationship with First Nations people and their government based on respect, they risked paying at the polls.

Canadians are upset about this massive racial injustice, as they should be.

First Nations have historically voted in low numbers, and there are reasons. They include not having the right to vote until 1961, marginalization, the lack of sense of entitlement, and poverty. Many First Nations don’t vote because they believe it won’t affect their daily lives, and that governments can exact revenge if they don’t like how they voted. Many Mohawk people, for example, believe in minding their own business and their own Two Row Wampum belief system.

But First Nations could be an effective voting block, if they want it, and affect real change in the Canadian political system.

Michael Eshkibok is a freelance journalist in Sarnia who holds a Doctorate in Communications.


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