Saskatchewan·First Person

As an Indigenous sovereigntist, I will vote in this year's federal election

'I will vote in this federal election because I have witnessed how the decisions made by governments can determine the quality of life of Indigenous children,' says Andre Bear, the former youth representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nation.

We must do whatever it takes to improve the quality of life for Indigenous children in Canada

Andre Bear is voting in this federal election to support a better quality of life for Indigenous children.  (Liam Richards)

This First Person piece is by Andre Bear, the former youth representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and co-chair of the Assembly First Nations National Youth Council.

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For a counterpoint take on voting in the federal election, read As an Anishinaabe citizen, I can't vote in federal elections in good conscience

As an Indigenous sovereign citizen of the Nêhîyaw nation, I will vote in this federal election because I have witnessed how the decisions made by governments can determine the quality of life of Indigenous children. 

In 2021, we cannot raise healthy children while our nations remain underfunded by every sector of government. 

Many of our First Nations reserves are nearing a state of emergency because of systemically imposed poverty. The need for infrastructure like adequate housing and clean drinking water is being intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be clear, First Nations people do not live off taxpayers' money. Canadian taxpayers have made a living off First Nations' lands and resources since the treaties were signed.

As this year's federal election approaches, we still have a long way to go, and our children are still being discriminately underfunded.

Therefore, as Indigenous peoples, we cannot afford partisanship or loyalty to any political party. As people that maintain our Inherent right to self-determination, our loyalty must remain with our own nations to ensure a better future for our children.

This means we must vote strategically in federal and provincial elections to support MPs or MLAs who are going to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples, regardless of which party they are from. 

Now it is critical to influence who is running Canada's government, because this will ultimately determine whether Indigenous children will get access to the most basic necessities of life, like clean drinking water. 

Andre Bear stands on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Submitted by Andre Bear)

Voting in the federal election will not make you lose your Treaty rights, and it will not make you less Indigenous. The Crown's obligations under treaty, as established in the original agreements with our ancestors, will remain, "as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow."

They do not remain, "until you start voting." 

It is our own relationships with the Creator and the land that will determine whether we are living in a way that honours what our ancestors fought to protect. To this day, we maintain that we have never ceded nor surrendered our land and retain our sovereignty through our Inherent and treaty rights. 

Many Indigenous peoples still believe that voting will hinder our sovereignty and assimilate us as citizens of Canada.
If this is true and I suddenly become assimilated through the eyes of some that are more "Indigenous" than me, so be it. 

In my heart I will know the Creator made me Nêhîyaw (Plains-Cree), and someday I will return to the spirit world in the same way.

Some would rather wait for a time when our own nations can form a real government outside of the Indian Act, and vote in that election instead. This is why I never wanted to vote in Canada's elections in the past. 

But after years working with both First Nations bands and the Canadian government, I now realize that Indigenous peoples still have a long way to go before we form that real government of our own. 

I will spend the rest of my life trying to make our own government a reality, while defending our Inherent and treaty rights. However, while we rebuild what is left of our nationhood, our children are suffering every day from chronic underfunding, systemic racism and colonial policy. 

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Today, my focus is improving the quality of life of Indigenous children, so they can heal from the impacts of residential schools and other attempts at genocide.

Our children will determine the future state of our nationhood. 

As Indigenous peoples, we have the Inherent right to form real government and exercise our sovereignty. This will happen… someday. 

Until that day comes, we need healthy children who have access to clean drinking water, education, health care, housing and social programming.

In the meantime, our treaties were made to give us the means to live in peaceful co-existence with the Crown's successor — now called Canada. 

As a proud citizen of the Nêhîyaw nation, and a descendant of Treaty No. 6 Territory, I will vote to support a better quality of life for Indigenous children. 

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André Bear

Freelance contributor

André Bear, B.Ed, J.D. (He/Him) is a Nêhîyaw (Plains-Cree) educator and advocate of inherent and treaty rights. He’s a Juris Doctor graduate from the University of Saskatchewan and is now pursuing his master of laws. At 21 years of age, André was appointed as an advisor to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada for the implementation of TRC Call to Action 66.