Indigenous

4 first-time First Nations voters: why they voted, what they hope for

Today some of the most politically active people in Indigenous country are reflecting on how casting a vote for the first time may have changed the nation.

I am relieved,' says first-time voter Grand Chief Derek Nepinak

Activist Savvy Simon, right, was named as one of Canadian Living's top 40 female change-makers, but she had never voted in a federal election until now. She and her partner headed to the polls together in Halifax on Monday. (Supplied)

Today, some of the most politically active people in indigenous country are reflecting on how casting a vote for the first time may have changed the nation.

A 27- year-old Mohawk youth from Six Nations and a veteran band councillor and grandmother from the Squamish Nation were among those marking an X on a federal ballot for the first time on Monday, in hopes of voting in a new government.

"Something that definitely inspired me in this election was seeing my native brothers and sisters awaking across Canada to vote, and a lot of them were voting for the first time too," said activist and first time voter Savvy Simon

Even prominent leaders like Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs took to the ballots for the first time.

Here are four first-time voters on why they voted and what they hope for with the new government.

Derek Nepinak

Derek Nepinak is far from a newbie to politics. The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has taken the reins on pulling First Nations communities out of third-party management and housing deficits and has helped build revenues for communities.

Derek Nepinak, a member of the Pine Creek First Nation, has been grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs since 2011. (CBC)
But voting in a federal election was never a priority.

"I believed that voting was an affront to my own understanding of sovereignty," he said. "My focus was and is on building on our own inherent and treaty rights to be self-governing."

In this election, Nepinak said he felt a sense of urgency to make some "breathing room" by pushing back a government he saw as indifferent and abrasive towards Indigenous people.

"This pushback could be accomplished by removing the Harper government," he said.

Nepinak voted for the NDP, which was endorsed by the Assembly of First Nations, and chose Daniel Blaikie, who won in the Elmwood–Transcona riding.

"Today I'm feeling relieved. But tomorrow, it's time to roll up the sleeves and figure out what my responsibilities will be," said Nepinak.

Logan Staats

For Six Nations Mohawk Logan Staats, age 27, voting is not just about trusting politicians — it's about going against the grain of his community.

While Logan Staats voted in federal elections for the first time on Monday, supporting political and social movements in his communities has been a big part of his life. (Supplied)
"I was raised traditionally and voting always kind of had a stigma in my community. But after Harper's last two terms, I decided I could not sit by idly while my community suffered and faced assimilation," Staats said.

While he voted in federal elections for the first time on Monday, supporting political and social movements in his communities has been a big part of his life. He has taken part in vigils and events for missing and murdered indigenous women. He also participates regularly on the Mohawk youth council.

But the Liberal victory doesn't mean much for him. Staats calls it the difference between selecting "Pepsi or Coke," but he still has hope.

"I guess we will see and time will tell," he said.

"I'm hoping that he's [Trudeau] a man of his word, I'm hoping First Nations people can cultivate a positive relationship with our new prime minister, I'm hoping we can find some sort of justice, for our missing sisters."

Deborah Baker

Deborah Baker lives on the Capilano reserve in West Vancouver. She has cast a ballot to elect chief and council members for the Squamish Nation since she was 18 years old. She's been elected councilor for three terms. But until this election, she had never participated in federal politics.

'I was never encouraged to vote as a young adult and I never encouraged my adult children until now,' said Deborah Baker. (Supplied)
"I believed we as First Nations would not be heard either way," she said. "I was never encouraged to vote as a young adult and I never encouraged my adult children until now."

Baker says this time she voted on behalf of herself to "ensure Stephen Harper was not re-elected." She was concerned that environmental and human rights issues were not being addressed.

She voted for NDP candidate Larry Coopman in the West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country riding. The Liberals got in.

"I feel hopeful … but cautious," said Baker.

She said she was drawn to the NDP's platform for its commitment to missing and murdered Indigenous women and to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations.

"So it will be interesting to see how the Liberals address those two important areas," she said.

Savvy Simon

Savvy Simon, 28,  is Mi'kmaq from Elsipogtog, and acted as a prayer warrior during the 2013 blockades in Elsipogtog to prevent shale gas exploration.

Savvy Simon says she is thrilled there will be a change in government. (Supplied)
She was named as one of Canadian Living's top 40 female change-makers. But she had never voted in a federal election — until now.

"In the past, there have been a lot of broken promises. I didn't want to vote for somebody if I didn't know truly what they stood for," she said.

This time was different. She and her partner had a "vote date" and took to the polls together in Halifax.

Simon voted for NDP candidate Joanne Hussey in Halifax West. The Liberal candidate won.

Simon said she is thrilled there will be a change in government, but she is apprehensive about how many Liberal MPs are in.

"But I am going to stick to hope and the fact that we have a few aboriginal members in Parliament," she said. "I feel that we will be heard and positive change will happen in our communities."

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? angela.sterritt@cbc.ca

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