'Archaic' government rules restricting Indigenous communities' control over elections: study

A new study shows Canada's current policies on Indigenous communities are hurting their democracy and having the power to implement things like online voting could make a big impact.

McMaster and Brock U study shows online voting could boost democracy in some Indigenous communities

A new study shows online voting could boost Indigenous democracy in their communities. (Shutterstock)

A new study highlights how the federal government's "archaic" policies are hurting Indigenous communities' democracy.

The eight-year project by McMaster University and Brock University shows Indian Band Election Regulations, Indian Referendum Regulations and First Nations Elections Act Regulations don't let some communities decide how they want to run their own elections and referendums.

"First Nations, Inuit, Métis people are urging the government ... to be responsive," Chelsea Gabel, the Indigenous Canada research chair, and a McMaster associate professor said.

Gabel is Métis from Rivers, Manitoba. She teamed up with Nicole Goodman, a chancellor's chair for research excellence and a Brock associate professor and to lead the study.

Together, they collaborated with First Nations: Tsuut'ina Nation, Wasauksing First Nation and Nipissing First Nation to come up with their findings.

The study, which began in 2013, found Indigenous communities liked online voting as a way to get more people to cast ballots both on and off the reserves.

The findings also suggest online voting improves governance, makes elections more accessible and would do a better job at representing the whole community.

Dozens of Indigenous communities restricted

"The red flags we came across were that not all communities had the ability to choose their voting method or use online voting if they wanted to," Goodman said.

Goodman said 143 communities are bound by the Indian Act and 75 are restricted by the First Nations Elections Act.

Gabel said she was surprised by how many communities were using online voting and how many wanted to but couldn't.

The research also comes after the government needed to put measures in place to allow Indigenous communities to cancel and postpone their elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jennifer Predie, was the lands manager for Wasauksing First Nation during the study. She said the project allowed the community — for the first time ever — to use online voting for the ratification of its land code. Land codes allow reserves to manage laws, processes and procedures to manage lands and resources outside of the Indian Act.

She said more people voted with the online option, especially those living off the reserve.

"I think right now we wouldn't be able to pass any land codes without the use of electronic voting," she said.

Predie, like the researchers, said the government's current rules are "very archaic" and changes are "long overdue."

"It's not enough for people to have a voice," she said.

Report has 8 recommendations for government

The report has eight recommendations including:

  • Changing current regulations to allow First Nations to choose how they want to vote for elections and referendums.

  • Boosting designated core government funding to support switching voting methods.

  • Supporting the development of a National Centre of Excellence or expansion of the First Nations Digital Democracy Project.

  • More responsiveness and support from the federal government for Indigenous elections and voting.

  • Creating a security framework for online voting.

  • Working with community-owned service providers to improve Internet connectivity and digital literacy in First Nations.

  • More community-engaged research on online voting, and for Indigenous communities and technology.

The researchers are calling on Indigenous Services Canada and the Minister of Indigenous Services to follow through with the recommendations, particularly the first one.

"This is about giving Indigenous communities' self-determination and having control over their own elections and voting methods," Gabel said.