Aboriginal hunters in the Northwest Territories say they may not be able to vote in the May 2 federal election, since they will be out on the land by then and advanced polling options won't work for many of them.

Hunters like David Menacho of Tulita, N.W.T., are packing their gear, fueling up their snowmobiles and preparing to head out to cabins or camps this week for their traditional spring hunts.

Menacho said he drives his snowmobile more than 50 kilometres to his spring camp every April to hunt geese and ducks, but this year he is being forced to choose between his traditional hunt and exercising his right to vote.

Menacho said he knows at least 30 other hunters who are leaving before advanced polls open, and they won't return to their home communities until after election day on May 2.

"I don't know how we're going to do it. I think the only way we can get in and vote is by chopper at the time," he told CBC News on Monday.

Culturally insensitive, says MLA

N.W.T. MLA Norman Yakeleya said people in Tulita and other remote communities in his constituency, Sahtu, are trying to figure out how they can vote before they embark on their spring hunts.

Advance voting stations

Seven Northwest Territories communities will host advance polling stations on April 22, 23 and 25, 2011.

  • Inuvik
  • Norman Wells
  • Yellowknife
  • Behchoko
  • Fort Simpson
  • Hay River
  • Fort Smith

"They are certainly concerned that Elections Canada is somewhat culturally insensitive to the aboriginal traditions, culture and practices around this time," Yakeleya said. "They worry that they won't be able to take part in this democratic process."

Elections Canada spokesperson Diane Benson said the agency offers a range of options for Canadians who cannot vote on May 2, including special mail-in ballots and advance voting stations.

"Electors have different circumstances that happen over a 36-day election calendar, and what we try to do is offer different options," Benson said.

Advance voting stations will be open in seven N.W.T. communities during the Easter long weekend, including one in Norman Wells.  That's about 73 kilometres north of Tulita, but there is no road connecting the communities.

People who do not live in those seven communities, or otherwise cannot make it to the advance polls, can request a mail-in ballot by faxing copies of their proof of identity to Elections Canada before April 26.

Elections Canada will then mail out a ballot package that should be filled out and mailed back before May 2.

Options may not work

But Yakeleya said hunters would not get their mail-in ballots before they leave, since it takes longer for mail to be delivered to remote northern communities.

si-dempster-caribou-hunt-220-2009

Hunters with a harvested caribou near the Dempster Highway. Every April, many aboriginal people in the North embark on traditional hunts for goose, duck and other animals. ((CBC))

As for the advance poll in Norman Wells, Yakeleya said many hunters and their families will be at camps far from that community while the voting station is open. Weather conditions may prevent them from returning to their home communities early to vote, he added.

"Over Easter weekend, you're going to have a lot of families in the bush," he said. "It costs a lot of money to get them out there, and people just do not carry $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 in their pocket to come back to the communities."

Yakeleya suggested that Elections Canada should consider other alternatives for aboriginal hunters, such as setting up ballot boxes at some hunting camps, or hiring a helicopter to transport hunters from their camps to polling stations.

Menacho said it would have been helpful if Elections Canada had spoken with aboriginal communities before deciding when to hold advance polls.