Manitoba

'We are the majority': How Indigenous representation could change Manitoba's largest federal riding

Representation could be a deciding factor in the next federal election for voters in Manitoba’s largest geographic riding, according to some who live there.

Cree, Métis candidates look to unseat incumbent in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, an NDP stronghold

Shirley Robinson, longtime band councillor for Pimicikamak, is running for the Liberals in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Representation could be a deciding factor in the next federal election for voters in Manitoba's largest geographic riding, according to some who live there.

"I think generally our people will support our own," said Cheryl Moore, vice-chief of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. The community is located in the federal riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski.

Moore said she's had conversations with community members about the Sept. 20 election, and many people are hoping for Indigenous representation in Parliament. Moore said current NDP MP Niki Ashton has been "strong," but there is something to be said about having someone in power who understands your experience.

"Nobody knows our issues more than our own people," she said.

NCN Vice-Chief Cheryl Moore, pictured here with her husband Jim Moore in 2018, says the NDP has been strong in her riding, but people will vote for whomever can best represent their voices in Parliament. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Indigenous candidates can 'reclaim voice' in Ottawa

Three out of the four confirmed candidates for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski identify as First Nations or Métis. About 75 per cent of the people living in the riding identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit.

Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson is from Pimicikamak Cree Nation and has served as a band councillor in her community for 14 years.

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"We are the majority, and it's only proper and right to have an Indigenous voice in Ottawa," said Robinson. She emphasized the need for more attention on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people, as well as the uncovering of burial sites on residential school grounds. 

"It's time to end this idea that we cannot speak for ourselves. We want to reclaim our voice in this democracy."

Two Métis candidates for the riding

Green party candidate Ralph McLean is Métis, and says it's important to look at the policies of each party. (Submitted by Ralph McLean)

Green candidate Ralph McLean is Métis. The editor of the Opasquia Times said Indigenous topics will be brought to Parliament no matter who is elected in the riding, since the majority of people living there identify as such. That's why it's still important to look at policies, he said, like the Green's stance on climate change.

"I've got a 14-year-old niece, and she needs a planet to live on," said McLean.

"Indigenous peoples have lived here for 15,000 years, and they were great stewards of the planet. So we need to take Indigenous-led knowledge and apply it to what's going forward for global climate change."

Charlotte Larocque, bottom right, is pictured with her family in Spring 2021. Larocque is running for the Conservative Party of Canada in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski. (Supplied by Charlotte Larocque)

Conservative candidate Charlotte Larocque, who is also Métis, is a former president of the Thompson Chamber of Commerce. In an emailed statement, Larocque said she appreciates that First Nation organizations are looking for representation in Ottawa.

"Through my own lived experience as a Métis woman living in the north, I believe that I can build bridges and work with our communities toward prosperity and positive change to secure the future," she wrote.

"However, I don't want the people of this riding to vote for me simply because of my identity as a Métis woman," wrote Larocque. Instead, she says voters read up on the Conservatives' plans for reconciliation through mental health resources and clean drinking water.

Ashton advocates

NDP candidate Niki Ashton, who is not Indigenous, has been the local MP since 2008. Ashton has advocated for Indigenous topics throughout her time in office, including the push for a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Niki Ashton, pictured at a leadership debate in 2017, has advocated for Indigenous communities during her time in office. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"Indigenous and northern communities here in northern Manitoba have a history of supporting the NDP because of what the NDP fights for," Ashton said in an emailed statement.

"Unfortunately, both the Liberal and Conservative parties have a history of colonization, broken promises and continued disrespect towards Indigenous peoples and communities. I am proud to have worked with and alongside First Nations and Métis communities in the struggle for justice."

Support from NDP leader

Should voters boot the NDP out of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in September, the party will lose one of its three seats in Manitoba.

On Friday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was asked in Thunder Bay, Ont., what he thinks about the importance of representation in the NDP stronghold.

"I support my candidate. Niki Ashton has been a strong voice for Indigenous people and has a proven record," said Singh.

"When it comes to fighting for Indigenous people, we have a proven record of defending people's rights and asking for the real justice that Indigenous people need and deserve."

Singh said his party is supporting Indigenous NDP candidates across the country, and wants to "make sure our Parliament looks like Canada."

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski has elected First Nations MPs in the past. Most recently, Tina Keeper served as Liberal MP for two years. The Cree woman, who was also an actor, was elected in 2006.

Before her, Oji-Cree politician Elijah Harper was elected as Liberal MP in 1993, after several terms as an MLA. Harper was nationally known for his role in defeating the Meech Lake Accord.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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