Candidates from Alberta's political parties agree: Indigenous representation matters
Regardless of politics, Indigenous candidates are a 'move toward being more inclusive'
When Vincent Rain collected enough signatures to earn the nomination as the Alberta Party candidate for Lesser Slave Lake, he was ready to start campaigning as one of many Indigenous candidates across the province.
Until Elections Alberta said he couldn't.
In order to run in provincial elections, candidates need at least 25 signed endorsements from eligible voters. According to the official candidate nomination form, voters need to print and sign their names, plus list their "residential address in the electoral division."
For Indigenous voters living on reserves, figuring out what address to include can be confusing. Only the band council has an address with a unique postal code; residential homes share the band council address but are numbered differently.
Many of Rain's supporters don't have postal codes, so they jotted down their P.O. box numbers instead. And that didn't go over well with Elections Alberta.
"People don't live in post office boxes," said Drew Westwater, deputy chief elections officer for Elections Alberta.
So Rain replaced the numbers with "valid" addresses and he made it onto the ballot. But he described the situation as "quite scary."
Had he been disqualified, it would have meant the loss of his perspective as an Indigenous candidate.
Indigenous candidates with all major parties
All of Alberta's major political parties have at least one Indigenous candidate on their roster. The Alberta Party has the most, with five First Nations or Métis candidates running in ridings across the province.
According to Statistics Canada, six per cent of Albertans identify as Aboriginal. The book Orange Chinook, which examines the NDP's sweep in the 2015 election, credits the mobilization of the "Indigenous vote" as one of the reasons behind Rachel Notley's win.
And the candidates agree: Indigenous representation matters.
Like Rain, Cree candidate Leila Houle also had to overcome barriers before making it onto the ballot. She is the UCP candidate in the Edmonton riding of Highlands-Norwood.
Houle's mother died about a year ago, and her sister took her own life six weeks later.
The suicide was part of the reason Houle decided to join the UCP.
"She struggled with a lot of different issues," Houle said about her sister. "I think when you see the party platforms, it includes the kinds of things that will help people like my sister."
If elected, Houle hopes to kick-start many initiatives, ranging from a UCP-specific Indigenous relations policy to job creation opportunities for all Albertans.
Job creation is also a priority for the UCP's Nicole Williams, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.
"There's a lot of people that are out of work," said Williams, who is running in Edmonton-West Henday. "They're really concerned about the way things are going in the future … so that's kind of the fuel that keeps me going."
Each of the three main parties is boasting of ethnic diversity on the ballot, with candidates who are East Asian, South Asian, black, Middle Eastern, mixed-race as well as First Nations and Métis, among others.
The Alberta Party has 28, the Liberal Party has 16, the NDP is running at least 19 self-proclaimed racially diverse candidates, and 21 candidates nominated under the United Conservative banner have identified as members of a visible minority group.
"That's the province of Alberta. It's diverse," Williams said.
Williams, Rain and Houle all say Indigenous candidates bring more than just diversity to the table.
"[The UCP] didn't pick me because I was a young woman who is Métis, they picked me because they thought I would do the best job," Williams said. "I want to help people in my constituency and I think I have the experience to do it."
Williams and Houle faced criticism in October after they said they unwittingly posed in photographs with members of Soldiers of Odin, an extremist hate group.
Both women apologized for the incident and strongly denounced extremist views. Houle also spoke up about her own experiences with anti-Indigenous racist behaviour.
"I will always repudiate hateful groups," Houle said, "and Jason Kenney has made it clear that those kinds of views have no place in our party."
'Not only a voice, but a person, within the legislature'
The NDP's Kirby Smith is running in the newly created Cardston-Siksika electoral district in southern Alberta, which collapsed the former Cardston-Taber-Warner and Little Bow ridings. It includes two major reserves: Siksika and Kainai nations.
Smith, who is Blackfoot, believes his district will make politics more accessible for Indigenous voters.
"People know they potentially have a voice in the election by virtue of the fact that there are two of the largest reserves in the same riding," Smith said. "It's an opportunity for us to actually have … not only a voice, but a person, within the legislature."
Smith decided to join the NDP because he believes the party has "demonstrated that they're more than willing to come to the door of communities and offer some assistance," he said.
In and around Treaty 7 territory, Smith said, the NDP has focused on tackling the opiate crisis and other health matters, both of which are important to the candidate.
He also agrees with the NDP's approach to energy. Namely, Smith supports Rachel Notley's plan to marry oil and gas initiatives, like pipelines, with renewable resource development.
Mobilizing Indigenous voters
Smith is adamant about the importance of Indigenous people getting involved in politics, regardless of the party they represent.
"Any government needs to be reflective of their population," Smith said. "Having diversity across the board means there is a move toward being more inclusive."
The leader of the Green Party, Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, who identifies as Cree, is Alberta's first Indigenous female provincial party leader — ever.
Chagnon-Greyeyes, a candidate in the riding of Calgary-Varsity, echoed Smith's statements.
"For Indigenous people to have the courage to put their names forward to run for a political party is good. We need more Indigenous people representing our voices," she said.
Like her Indigenous competitors, Chagnon-Greyeyes wants to represent all members in her constituency, not just Indigenous voters.
NDP Grande Prairie-Wapiti candidate Shannon Dunfield, who has mixed Indigenous heritage, reiterated the sentiment.
"Stepping into this role is going to help my goal of representing all of the constituents in my riding," Dunfield said.
Additional Indigenous candidates include Sherry Greene and Dakota House with the Alberta Party, the Liberal Party's Michelle Robinson and the UCP's Kara Barker.
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According to candidates like Houle and Chagnon-Greyeyes, incorporating Indigenous perspectives in all levels of government goes beyond policy. It also shows young Indigenous people they can "make it," Houle said.
"People who have never been involved in politics are involved now because they're inspired when they see an Indigenous woman articulate how she reached her goals," Houle said.
"The younger generation is getting involved with my campaign and it makes me proud."
With files from Falice Chin.