One week after telling reporters he would not vote in the federal election because he wanted to remain non-partisan, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has changed his mind. He will cast a ballot after all.
During a news conference to discuss the AFN's priorities for the 2015 campaign last week, Bellegarde said that as a First Nations leader, he felt he should remain non-partisan and so did not vote in the past.
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However, in a statement issued Wednesday, Bellegarde now says he will cast a ballot.
"As indigenous peoples, our relationship is with the Crown, rather than one political party. And I must work with the entire Crown. This is why I have not voted in federal elections," the statement reads.
"Last week, I listened to First Nations elders, leaders, citizens and young people from across our territories," it continues.
"The message to me is consistent and clear: 'It is vital that First Nations voices be heard in every way possible, including through the ballot box. You need to be an example. You need to vote.'"
The AFN is working to educate voters during this campaign, including providing information about the mechanics of voting, and the new identification requirements this year.
Its advocacy work has also been emphasizing the importance of the aboriginal vote in 51 swing ridings where First Nations had enough potential voters to influence who wins. Historically, voter turnout on reserves has been lower than among the general population.
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Pressed by reporters last week, Bellegarde left it open whether he might reconsider in 2015.
Bellegarde now says he's reassessed his "long-standing practice" and will vote on Oct. 19. He hopes his vote will reinforce the AFN's message.
"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."