What matters to some P.E.I. Indigenous voters in this election

What matters to some voters of the Abegweit First Nation, as well as Indigenous people living off-reserve on P.E.I.?

'If they're not going to move our agenda forward, then don't vote for them'  

Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul knows knows his priorities are the environment and youth. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The Mi'kmaq elder waves an eagle feather over the smoldering sage in a clam's half shell. He speaks of spirituality, and of politics, as the aromatic smoke engulfs speaker and listener.

Peter-Paul is an elder for Abegweit First Nation, one of two bands on P.E.I. Residents of the band's three reserves at Scotchfort, Rocky Point and Morell are among Islanders now weighing their voting options as election day draws near.

"Our priority is to take care of Mother Earth, taking care of Abegweit," says Junior Peter-Paul, burning the ceremonial offering outside a sweat lodge. "This is basically the same thing I'm going to say to any parties that comes to me, is about taking care of Mother Nature — this is important."

Peter-Paul says his vote might go to the Green Party, or he might not vote at all. He admits it's something he has not done very often over the years. But standing in a sunny grove of birch and spruce, he sees the environment as an important part of Mi'kmaq culture.

"I'm not too much into political life," he said. "That's not a concern for me right now — my concern is taking care of Mother Earth, taking care of the nature, taking care of our plant life, the animals, taking care of the people that are following our traditional ways."

'Ask your candidates'

In a busy office in Charlottetown, Chief Lisa Cooper of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island is anxious about this election might bring to Indigenous people who do not live on reserves.

'We are Indians and we need assistance,' says Lisa Cooper, who lobbies for federal funding for off-reserve Indigenous people. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The council serves the estimated 1,000 Indigenous people living off-reserve on P.E.I. including status, non-status, Métis and Inuit, scattered in all four of the Islander's federal election ridings.

And she said many of them are living in poverty. 

"And I think that's what candidates need to consider when they're going out there, is that it's a large population," said Cooper. "Ask your candidates — ask them what they would like to see for the off-reserve. If you don't like the answer, don't vote."

Cooper points to the Daniels decision of 2016 that ruled Metis and non-status Indigenous people in Canada are entitled to Indian status and are thus to services from Ottawa. 

"It's ironic that since 2016 the federal government has done nothing in their budget to service the off-reserve," she said. "It's leaving this biggest population ... without any funding, without any monies for our programs." 

Members of Abegweit First Nation live on reserve lands in Scotchfort, Morell and Rocky Point. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Cooper said she worries there could be cuts in federal funding to off-reserve programs, including housing and mental health services. The council runs 56 affordable housing units across the province, from apartments to detached homes, and a large part of the funding comes from Ottawa.

"If this housing strategy doesn't continue ... there will be no subsidy for them," said Cooper. "We're going to have to sell off one unit to provide fixing, or renovations or whatever, for the other 55. We're going to have to sell of another one, until we end up with none. "

Other off-reserve programs are in jeopardy too, according to Cooper, including a mental health and addictions program  the council has run for 25 years.

"These are issues that our community has to let the candidates know," said Cooper. "If they're not going to move our agenda forward, then don't vote for them, don't vote for those parties."

Cooper said she thinks more Indigenous Islanders are excited to vote in this election because they are more engaged and informed than ever.

A voting station will be open election night, Oct. 21, at the band office in Scotchfort.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Brian Higgins holds an honours Bachelor of Science degree in biology, as well as a Master of Arts degree in journalism. As a videojournalist, he currently reports for TV, radio and on Prince Edward Island with emphasis on courts and judicial issues.