Aboriginal voters gear up to cast ballots in Winnipeg's civic election

With less than a week to go before Winnipeg's civic election, there are predictions coming from the city's indigenous community of a "significant shift" toward more aboriginal people voting.
Rebecca Chartrand, who hopes to represents Winnipeg's Point Douglas ward, campaigns at the Salvation Army on Main Street and Higgins Avenue. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

Amid the traditional door-knocking in Winnipeg's Point Douglas ward, one city council candidate says the fight this election is simply getting more people out to the ballot box.

"What I'm also noticing is a lot of people in this area here haven't voted before," said Rebecca Chartrand.

In the last civic election, only 38 per cent of voters in Point Douglas cast a ballot.

Chartrand is stopping by shelters and campaigning on Main Street to encourage people to make their voice heard in the Oct. 22 election.

"I'm not even necessarily saying, 'Vote for me,'" she said. "I'm just saying, 'Get out and vote.' It's important that we participate in the system because that's how you make change."

With less than a week to go to election day, there are predictions coming from the city's indigenous community of a "significant shift" toward more aboriginal people voting.

"In the past, we were an afterthought, we were an irritant, and I think there's a sense now [that] a change is needed," said Phil Fontaine, a former Assembly of First Nations national chief.

"I think there's been a determination — and I hope it's community-wide — that we're not going to sit by and watch events unfold."

'We have the right'

From Drag the Red volunteers searching the Red River after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from the water in August, to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and the Idle No More movement, Fontaine says there are a number of issues galvanizing Winnipeg's indigenous community.

A poster advertising an event honouring Winnipeg's indigenous civic election candidates at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)
This time around, he senses more willingness from aboriginal people to participate in the electoral process.

"It's quite a significant shift," he said.

Some voters echoed that feeling at a recent voting workshop at Neechi Commons as part of a jobs and skills training course there.

Amy Ann Moar, 21, will cast her first vote next week.

"First Nations people don't vote because they don't feel important," she said.

"We have the right to have a say as in who controls the city, who makes big decisions, and I feel like the hierarchy is kind of breaking down, so I'm really, really thrilled about that."

Difficult to pin down the buzz online

Online, almost 2,500 people have joined the "Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote" Facebook group, which is dedicated to informing people about candidate events and how to vote.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, more than 70,000 aboriginal people live in Winnipeg. But some say it's tricky to pin down online buzz in hard numbers.

Scott MacKay, president of Probe Research, says pollsters must rely on "indirect analysis" to determine if more indigenous people intend to — or actually do — vote.

"It's very hard to know in a secret ballot kind of system as we have who actually votes and who doesn't," said McKay.

He said his firm plans to examine voter turnout in Winnipeg wards where more aboriginal people live after next week's election.

Moar is still pinning down who she will vote for, but she said she will certainly but out there voting.

"It's enough of just sitting there and being quiet and taking it," she said. "Like, just get up, use your voice and don't be afraid."

With files from the CBC's Cameron MacIntosh