There is "a sense of power" being restored to First Nations communities across the province Tuesday after the Liberals' decisive federal election win, says Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson.
The Liberals ousted the Conservatives with a majority government, capturing 184 seats or 54.4 per cent of the vote.
"People are seeing what difference they can make," North-Wilson said, adding the "Rock the Vote" movement pushed indigenous voters to the polls.
'The young people said the status quo is not acceptable.' - Perry Bellegarde
"I think people this time around knew the effects of what this Conservative government did to our people and made sure that it did not happen again."
Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper "awoke a sleeping giant" in First Nations people.
"That giant is awake," Nepinak said. "A Liberal majority government is going to have to deal with the giant and indigenous people of these lands."
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, credited youth for investing time and energy into getting First Nation people to the polls.
"The young people said the status quo is not acceptable and we're tired of crappy housing and caps on education and we have to bring about change," Bellegarde said.
"We've had chiefs that shut down their communities and bused people to the polls and had high numbers of people turning out to the polls. That's a positive indication of the excitement and the real willingness was to drive forward that change."
David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, said conditions leading up to the election created "the perfect storm for the parties and their candidates."
"Our push to get our citizens out to vote in both the advance polls and on election day has made a clear difference," Chartrand said. "We proved our Métis votes matter and we are confident our Métis citizens have made an informed choice."
Michael Redhead Champagne, an indigenous activist in Winnipeg, said he believes there was more engagement, specifically in urban areas, than in past elections.
"It is a win-win situation because what we're hoping to do is build the political literacy of average citizens, and the more citizens understand, the more they're going to be able to engage in critical thinking as well as engage in the electoral process themselves — both as candidates but also as helpers to make sure it gets fixed properly because, it's broken right now," he said.
Ninoondawah Richard said he didn't vote because to do so would be to legitimize a broken system.
"For me, for my culture, if I do that, it's like taking a step back," Richard said.
'Our voice does matter'
Jenna Wirch voted and was part of the Indigenous Rock the Vote movement.
"When I did vote, it tugged at my heartstrings because I was raised as a sovereign person growing up with those sovereign beliefs, but at the same time, growing up in the urban area as an indigenous person, we're taught our voice does matter and the only way we're going to make a change is if you go vote," Wirch said.
"The elections aren't going to change our lives. What's going to change our lives and our communities is us."
Champagne said the true test will be to see if the Liberals work to ensure citizens remain engaged in the political process.
"It's important for us to participate in voting, but also the other 364 days a year to volunteer your time, voting with your dollar, so we encourage everyone to stay involved."