'I am First Nation and I vote' campaign aims to get Manitoba First Nations voters to the polls
'Get your cousins to vote, get your aunties and uncles to vote': SCO grand chief
First Nations leaders in Manitoba are calling on every eligible First Nations person in the province to get out and vote in next week's federal election.
On Wednesday, the The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs held a virtual town hall, outlining the top issues on the minds of First Nations voters. The event highlighted the Assembly's "I am First Nation and I Vote" campaign, meant to rally excitement and motivate people to get to the polls.
"Get your cousins to vote, get your aunties and uncles to vote, and make sure that you're being heard because we need you. Leadership cannot do it alone — we need you to help us," said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization.
"The most sacred thing that you can do, the most important thing you can do so that your voice can be heard, [is] with your vote. So please vote."
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The 2015 federal election saw a spike in the number of First Nations voters. The AMC is hoping to see a similar turnout on this year's election day, which is Sept. 20.
"I think one of the things that we need to continue to remind our relatives in our regions is … the vote was not granted to our people until 1960," said Grand Chief Garrison Settee from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
"This is something that we should take advantage of … because if we don't vote, the status quo will remain the same."
The Assembly of First Nations, the national governing body for First Nations people, has outlined their issues of concerns for First Nations voters in a report called The Healing Path Forward.
Priorities include acknowledging the truth of residential schools and recognizing survivors and intergenerational survivors, addressing climate change and economic disparities, including First Nations as economic partners, and addressing gaps in services, like health care.
Manitoba AFN regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse encourages all federal parties to take a look at the report.
Greater visibility, influence
"So many First Nations issues have acquired greater visibility in recent years, our influence as First Nations can be seen in Ottawa across party lines," said Woodhouse.
Woodhouse says First Nations were instrumental in supporting legislative initiatives called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action, and also led the way in the development of the Indigenous Languages Act, passed in 2019.
"Just recently, in 2021, legislation passed with all party support to establish a federal statutory holiday to commemorate the survivors of Indian residential schools, as well as the children who tragically did not make it home," she said.
A recent AFN analysis highlighted ridings in this year's federal election where Indigenous voters could make a difference.
"Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding in the north [of Manitoba], that's a riding where electors [are] 78 per cent Indigenous. They can determine the results, if they go vote," said Woodhouse.
"In 2015, we were so successful at getting out the vote. People went out in droves, and we're hoping that people will get out and vote again, because your voice matters, and your vote matters."
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Even though Woodhouse would not endorse any one party, she did say she wants to support First Nations candidates, like Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, who is from Pimicikamak Cree Nation. She is running to unseat current NDP member of Parliament Niki Ashton.
An issue top of mind for Grand Chief Jerry Daniels from the Southern Chiefs' Organization is the health of First Nations people.
"We are dying 11 years earlier. My grandmother and grandfather, who are not here today, could have lived another 11 years," said Daniels.
"Until we see politicians in government who are focused on changing that narrative and changing the socioeconomic status of our citizens, there is not much change that is happening," he said.
"So we are looking for leaders who will stand up to make that possible within the system, change that system, or tear it down and let us take control of our destiny."
The AMC does not endorse a federal party, but made its opinion on the current government clear.
"I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, but what I'm going to tell you is that I was a chief during the [Stephen] Harper era, and it was a very difficult time," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.
"We've had very meaningful working relationships with with this current government, and I'm very appreciative of that.… I look forward to maintaining that momentum and I hope everybody goes out and tries to make informed decisions."