Indigenous voting: U of W scholars weigh benefits of casting ballots

There’s been a big push heading into October’s federal election to encourage indigenous voters to cast ballots, but in Winnipeg on Monday, one indigenous scholar argued they shouldn’t.

University of Winnipeg hosts indigenous voting forum with Pam Palmater, Rob Innes and Leah Gazan

There's been a big push heading into October's federal election to encourage indigenous voters to cast ballots, but in Winnipeg on Monday, one indigenous scholar argued they shouldn't 2:01

There's been a big push heading into October's federal election to encourage indigenous voters to cast ballots, but in Winnipeg on Monday, one indigenous scholar argued they shouldn't.

Pam Palmater, the chair of Ryerson University's Centre for Indigenous Governance, made the case for why indigenous people shouldn't vote at a University of Winnipeg forum.
The University of Winnipeg is hosting a forum on indigenous voting and sovereignty on Monday. (Chris Glover/CBC)

"Voting in someone else's system is not part of exercising our sovereignty," she said. "Every single time we have resisted some major initiative on the ground, we have been successful."

Palmater pointed to the Meech Lake Accord as well as the First Nations Governance Act as examples.

"That's all because of our resistance on the ground. It wasn't from knocking on doors and voting in elections," Palmater.

The event, dubbed To Vote or Not to Vote, was the first in a series of indigenous scholars forums planned at the university this year, and students also heard from Professor Rob Innes and lecturer Leah Gazan on the issue.

"Whether we like it or not, we're all part of the current systems -- medicine, passports, funding -- that affects whether we have affordable and proper housing or not," argued Gazan. "We deserve to have a say in how our lives are impacted by government decisions."

Indigenous voting has been historically low; Elections Canada reports voter turnout on First Nations is generally 15 to 20 per cent lower than the general population.

CBC reporter Meagan Fiddler caught up with a number of young, indigenous voters and asked if they plan to vote.

20-year-old Winnipegger Gerald Roulette said he's considering voting in October's election, but he's not sure.

"My brother told me I should … he told me it's a good thing to do," said Roulette. "It just doesn't catch my interest … It kind of feels weird voting for one person because I don't know anything about them."

Kailee Hager, a 20-year-old adult education student, said she wants to vote but needs a lot more information before she makes a decision.

"I feel like I want to vote, but I just don't know. I want to know who's running and stuff," she said. "It would just feel good to have a say in stuff for once."

In Winnipeg Centre, Liberal candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette is knocking on doors and talking to voters. He said he thinks the tide is changing for indigenous voters.

"I think a lot of elders are starting to realize that, if you're outside the political system, people don't have to listen to you as much," he said. "It's better to be on the inside, having those negotiations and really trying to effect change from within.

The University of Winnipeg plans to hold more scholar forums on indigenous issues in the coming months.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.