NDP Leader Jack Layton, right, raises the hand of candidate Romeo Saganash during a campaign rally in Val d'Or, Que. Saganash, who is Cree, is one of two Aboriginal candidates in the riding. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Aboriginal candidates running in the federal election may encourage First Nations voters in Quebec to cast a ballot next week, according to some observers.

In the riding of Abitibi-Baie James - Nunavik Eeyou, Cree leader Romeo Saganash is running for the NDP, against Green Party candidate Johnny Kasudluak, who is Inuk.

Lawyer Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, originally from the community of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam is running for the NDP in the North Shore riding of Manicouagan.

The candidates have "sparked an interest among First Nations people in Northern Quebec to get involved," says Ashley Iserhoff, Deputy Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees.

"There's actually an opportunity for an Aboriginal person to actually fit as a member of Parliament, and to be able to actually speak on our behalf at the government level."

University student Frances Kawapit says many of her Cree classmates feel disconnected from the campaign.

As a Cree from Whapmagoostui, Kawapit says the fact Saganash is running does make a difference to her, even if it doesn't guarantee her vote.

"You can't just vote because he's Cree," she said. "You have to vote for what people stand for, what their platform is."

Voter turnout low in the past

Aboriginal voter turnout in Quebec has been historically low. In the 2000 federal election, only 35 per cent of those eligible cast a ballot.


Johnny Kasudluak is running for the Green Party in Abitibi. ((Green Party))

Kasudluak has been very active on social networking sites, which could spur young voters, said educator Mary Aitcheson, who lives in the Abitibi-Baie James riding.

"When you know someone who is running, when you can put a face to someone, I think the response is better," said Aitcheson, who is a retired member of the Kuujuaq School Board.

The fact remains that many Aboriginal people are disillusioned by federal politics, said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

Picard admits he has never voted in any federal or provincial election.

"I guess it's my answer to the lack of interest to our issues. At the same time, we are being served with the argument that if you don't vote, how do you expect parties or governments to respond to our issues? To which I respond – it goes far beyond that."

The assembly doesn't get involved in federal elections, preferring to remain neutral, he said.

Election conflicts with goose hunt


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain is an NDP candidate in Manicouagan. ((NDP))

Even if there are Aboriginal candidates on the ballot, the spring election timing may ultimately prove to be an obstacle, warned Ashley Iserhoff.

"A lot of our people are out hunting for the next three weeks for goose. We tried to encourage people to vote in the advance polls, but they were only in two communities, and we have nine [Cree] communities," he said.

"We tried to do our part, but the election is right smack in the middle of our goose hunt."

With files from Ainslie MacLellan