As government funding is cut for indigenous political lobby groups such as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Métis Federation, it is interesting to note how much power indigenous politicians are gaining across the mainstream political scene in Canada.
Métis in Manitoba are represented in Canada’s federal cabinet, House of Parliament and Winnipeg’s mayoralty chair. A First Nations citizen is second in command in Manitoba and another is a rising star in the provincial cabinet. An upstart indigenous candidate is following up a surprisingly strong run for mayor with a federal campaign, which is drawing a lot of attention.
Shelly Glover: Proud Métis
The most powerful politician in Manitoba at the federal level is Shelly Glover, a proud Métis. The member of Parliament for St. Boniface is the minister of Canadian heritage and official languages, but more important, Glover is what is commonly called the “point person” for federal funding that comes into this province. She wields considerable power as major decisions on federal funding are all run by her.
'First Nations were not even eligible to vote until 1961, but some folks have even gone on to say we might some day have an indigenous prime minister.' - Don Marks
At the provincial level, member of the Legislative Assembly for Keewatinook Eric Robinson is the Deputy Premier of Manitoba. Robinson is also minister of Aboriginal Affairs responsible for Manitoba Hydro, and thus wields enormous power and influence on matters affecting the north.
Most political pundits, regardless of their political leanings, recognize that Kevin Chief is a rising star on the political scene in Manitoba.
Kevin Chief a rising star
Chief represents the riding of Point Douglas, a poverty-stricken constituency heavily populated by native people in Winnipeg’s inner city.
Chief has managed to instil pride and community development at the local level through programs such as the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport and Recreational Council, and was very successful at developing relevant and effective programs and services for children and youth as cabinet minister responsible for that segment of Manitoba’s population.
Presently serving as minister of jobs and the economy, Chief wields considerable influence and had to fend off immense pressure from supporters not to enter the race for leadership of the NDP.
Chief is also responsible for the City of Winnipeg, which makes up more than half of the entire population of Manitoba.
Bowman and Ouellette
The new mayor is young Métis lawyer Brian Bowman, who won that job by knocking off pre-election favourite Judy Wasylycia-Leis by a large margin in the civic vote last fall.
Bowman didn’t make his Métis heritage a factor in that election, but he has never been hesitant to proclaim his background with immense pride.
Who would have thought that top level negotiations between the province and its largest city would be co-ordinated by a Métis and a member of a First Nation?
Finishing third in that mayoralty race was Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who was completely unknown in political circles until he decided to run for Winnipeg’s top political position.
Ouellette was considered a long shot before his well-organized platform of policies and procedures, his articulate presentation and engaging speaking style, and his simple charm and appearance captured the imagination of many voters who had become dissatisfied with the status quo, as well as disenfranchised voters who had abandoned civic politics in the past.
'I don’t want to be an indigenous mayor, I want to be a mayor who is indigenous.”' - Robert-Falcon Ouellette
Ouellette has announced his intention to run in the federal riding of Winnipeg Centre — where he hopes to build on his momentum to knock off incumbent NDP M.P. Pat Martin.
In the past, we might have experienced “token representation” by scattered Métis and First Nation candidates with few making it through to sit at the table of power. The seating has changed and there are indigenous representatives with huge influence at every level of mainstream politics in Manitoba.
Rod Bruinooge not defending seat
Such representation will be reduced by one soon, because Métis member of Parliament Rod Bruinooge is not going to defend his seat in south Winnipeg in the next federal election.
Bruinooge has been at odds with the Manitoba Métis Federation, but he occupied numerous influential political positions representing Métis and First Nations people to the federal government.
Then again, there is plenty of speculation that Bruinooge, who says that he is retiring because he wants to spend more time with his rapidly growing, young family, is planning a transfer to provincial politics, which would cut out all the time spent in Ottawa.
Bruinooge could run for the Conservatives in the next provincial election scheduled for 2016.
'Aboriginal agenda' not a factor
Most of these successful indigenous politicians did not run by placing an “aboriginal agenda” before the voters — they ran on their qualifications and experience, and they were chosen by the electorate to represent all the people in their riding, in this city, this province and this country.
Unless it is part of their politically designated responsibilities, such as Robinson’s department or when Bruinooge was interlocutor for Métis affairs, it doesn’t seem that they push an ethnic envelope.
As Ouellette said during the civic campaign: “I don’t want to be an indigenous mayor, I want to be a mayor who is indigenous.”
It will remain mostly up to political representatives of First Nations and Métis governments to bring their issues forward to Canadian governments at all levels. It has to help that they will be presenting their case to people in power who have the blood of shared ancestors flowing through their veins, as well as the sensitivity and awareness to indigenous issues that comes with their background.
First Nations were not even eligible to vote until 1961, but some folks have even gone on to say we might some day have an indigenous prime minister. After all, an African-American man is currently president of the United States..
Don Marks is the Editor of Grassroots News.