Windsor-area Indigenous people disappointed in lack of election attention

Local Indigenous people aren't pleased with how election campaigns have paid attention to their issues — issues they say aren't just specific to Indigenous people.

'We're treated as though we're a problem or an inanimate object'

Local Indigenous Peoples aren't pleased with how election campaigns have paid attention to their issues — issues they say aren't specific to Indigenous people.  (iStock)

Local Indigenous people aren't pleased with how election campaigns have paid attention to their issues — issues they say aren't just specific to Aboriginal people. 

Rebecca Major, assistant professor of political science at the University of Windsor, said she expected more dialogue around issues Indigenous people face.

"I'm surprised it's been so quiet," said Major. "A lot of it is that many Canadians are not aware of the issues [Indigenous] face. I don't think the media has [addressed] the issues Indigenous people face."

Major said this current election cycle is mostly a battle for attention.

'We don't exist in a box'

According to Major, candidates need to understand Indigenous people aren't a "subject matter."

"We're people," said Major. "We're treated as though we're a problem or an inanimate object."

Local Indigenous poet Daniel Lockhart agreed.

Rebacca Major, assistant professor of political science at the University of Windsor says she expected more "dialogue" around issues Indigenous Peoples face. (Tom Addison/CBC)

"Every Indigenous issue is a Canadian issue," said Lockhart. "They don't exist in a vacuum."

Major said she thinks there's an assumption that Indigenous people don't deserve the same respect as the rest of Canada.

"We don't exist in a box, but we're compartmentalized," said Major. "I think a lot of times our people are overlooked and underestimated. I think Indigenous people are more aware of politics and some of the rights, roles and responsibilities."

Lockhart said the candidates could be doing a lot more to address Indigenous people in the region.

Daniel Lockhart says local candidates aren't doing enough to engage with the Indigenous communities in the region. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"Indigenous voices [in Windsor] have been silenced over the years. We're often left on the back burner, ignored. Much more could be done," said Lockhart. "I'd like to see the candidates engage specifically with the Can-Am Centre. Most of Indigenous folk, we are outside of the academy. We have to look more toward the working, everyday Indigenous people."

Lockhart and Major both said major issues include drinking water, housing, the foster care system and climate change. 

"Windsorites and southwestern Ontarians need to understand, we have a lot of Indigenous in this area," said Lockhart. "Go to them, talk to them."

Hesitation to participate in this year's election

Kat Pasquach, the Aboriginal outreach and retention coordinator with the University of Windsor, added that there's hesitation among members of some Indigenous communities to participate in the upcoming Oct. 21 election, as a result of broken promises on the part of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's administration.

"I don't think that enough people have built relationship with Indigenous communities to re-establish that trust," she said. "Working with our communities is not something I think a lot of candidates know how to do."

According to Pasquach, political candidates often address issues pertaining to Indigenous people living in First Nations reserves, like concerns about water quality. However, it's rare for issues affecting urban Indigenous people — like a loss of language and a loss of culture — to reach the so-called mainstream.

"We don't have the same connections and opportunities that we would being on our homelands, and that is one of the problems that have been arising for nations everywhere ... our loss of language is so incredibly important," she said.

Pasquach said there aren't enough programs put in place to support Indigenous people living in cities. 

"It's difficult to differentiate between supports that are expected municipally, provincially and federally in the city, when all of that is under the jurisdiction of federal on-reserve," she said. "That in itself becomes another problem ... there are these layers of government that are all pushing the responsibility back onto the federal government, even though that's not their jurisdiction in urban areas."

Increased Indigenous representation in government was one remedy Pasquach said could begin to address concerns. 

The issue that Indigenous people face ... are not only being faced by Indigenous people.- Kat Pasquach, Aboriginal outreach and retention coordinator, University of Windsor

"And the issues that Indigenous people are facing in particular are not only being faced by Indigenous people," she said. "If you look at housing and homelessness and ... children who are in the child welfare system that are facing abuse, why aren't these issues being worked on as a whole, and why aren't we all working together?"

Pasquach added that voter reform is an issue "that needs to be brought back to the plate, not just for us but for Canada as a whole."

"If none of those changes are being made, then everybody is going to feel like their voices aren't being heard," she said. "I'm surprised that something like that isn't being talked about more often, because Indigenous people don't want to participate in an electoral system that doesn't reflect our values and our ways."

Pasquach said she didn't feel confident enough to promote any candidate based on their participation in local Indigenous communities.

Rebecca Major spoke with Windsor Morning's Tony Doucette about the issues Indigenous Peoples are facing with the federal election.