Aboriginal elders feeling need to vote for 1st time in federal election
'1,187 missing and murdered women versus one niqab? That's another travesty.'
When it comes to voting, there's potential for a considerable sea change for at least one First Nations reserve on Oct. 19.
Right now on the Kitigan Zibi reserve near Maniwaki, Que., elders are talking about getting out and voting — and for many, it would be for the first time.
"I've been surprised to hear some of our elders say they're going to vote. They're dissatisfied this time with the government that's in power," said Jean Guy Whiteduck, chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin community and a senior citizen himself.
Whiteduck said he's thinking about voting even though it's something he usually avoids.
"They [the government] just pass laws and railroad right over our rights issue. That's what's frustrating. That's what's maybe getting First Nations to consider voting, saying maybe a government change is warranted at this time and maybe we can influence it to some extent."
That influence could be significant in some regions of the country, if First Nations people do get out and vote.
In the last election, turnout on First Nations was just 44 per cent, compared to about 60 per cent for the general population.
Kitigan Zibi, about 130 km from Ottawa, is in the Pontiac riding where the most recent census data shows 13 per cent of the population identified as aboriginal.
Currently, it's a tight three-way race. The incumbent is NDP, but the riding has elected both Liberal and Conservatives in recent contests.
Idle No More movement empowered youth
Norm Odjick, director general of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, is a generation younger than Whiteduck and said the Idle No More movement has given some young aboriginal people a feeling of empowerment.
"I think with this election we'll see more people getting out to vote," said Odjick. "The youth are more proactive and they want to see change. I've seen a lot of messages on social media where people are saying they're going to vote."
"Our community over the years has stayed neutral, we said we're not part of Canada," said Whiteduck.
Dissatisfied with campaign issues
Claudette Commanda, a grandmother, Kitigan Zibi band councillor and teacher at the University of Ottawa, said she's watching the campaign closely — but that none of the leaders are talking about the issues that matter to her people including education, housing and clean water.
"1,187 missing and murdered women versus one niqab? That's another travesty," said Commanda.
"The niqab should not even be an issue — period. The first women of this country, that's the issue here. It's not about covering our faces. It's about human lives here that are at stake and that's what the candidates should be focusing on."
She said she's still thinking about voting this time around.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, announced in September he plans to vote this time, even though it has been his "long-standing practice" to stay away from the polls.
"On Oct. 19, I will vote in this federal election in support of a government committed to closing the gap between First Nations people and Canadians. I continue to encourage all First Nations people to vote."