Bev Crain drove 150 kilometres to Saskatoon from Muskoday just to hear why indigenous people would choose not to vote in the upcoming federal election.
“I wanted to hear about some of the views on sovereignty and not voting because I really feel that it is part of my rights and I can make a difference if I vote,” Crain said.
“I was impressed because there were people who were cut and dry and they said ‘no’ they weren’t going to vote but now they will vote and that is a rallying cry.”
Crain sat within the packed room at Station 20 West for the public forum called “To Vote Or Not To Vote?”
Five speakers sat at a table in the front explaining their stance on voting and the federal elections relationship to indigenous sovereignty. The indigenous vote has been making headlines especially after Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he would be voting in the federal election for the first time come October.
“I’m sure that the concerns that I have are very similar to the concerns that a lot of people also have,” speaker Colby Tootoosis said to begin the discussion.
“Where I stand on this particular issue around voting has to do with the confusion and the lack of a situational awareness that we are in as indigenous people.”
The Poundmaker Cree Nation band councillor explained that his First Nation is its own nation and that the voting system was not built to help his people succeed.
“Understanding that I’m an original habitant to this land, that I’m indigenous to this soil, and keeping in mind that that slave master mentality is still present,” Colby said. “We had a system that was imposed on our lands that assumes it’s superior and dominant over all the people. All that history and legacy (the) system has, that system is designed to oppress the colonized people.”
He said he would not be voting because when he begins to act like a “domestic minority” then the “assimilation process will be easier down the line.”
Idle No More co-founder Nina Wilson said that even as a grandmother, she had only voted once before.
“Initially my inclination would be to not to because politics suck,” Wilson said drawing laughter from the crowd. “Our economic dependency created colonial, political control and not very much has changed since western politics dominated the landscape. But for the first time in decades, if not longer, we have managed to throw a monkey wrench, interruption into the current happenings.”
“Initially my inclination would be to not to because politics suck. Our economic dependency created colonial, political control and not very much has changed since western politics dominated the landscape. But for the first time in decades, if not longer, we have managed to throw a monkey wrench, interruption into the current happenings.”- Nina Wilson
Wilson said she would be voting in the upcoming election because the poverty indigenous people are “plagued” with is a political and predatory issue .
“I’m not a voter but this time around I want to slam someone down,” Wilson said. “That vote will not trump real nation to nation relationships but I believe a vote can assist in revitalizing and restoring moral consciousness.”
Co-founder of Indigenous Vote Sask Glenda Abbott agreed that voting was not about giving up nationhood as a Cree person.
“I’ve chosen to vote for many reasons but the first reason is the minute that Europeans stepped foot on Canadian soil, indigenous people became part of a global system,” she said.
“The minute I decided to vote, it wasn’t a vote for a Canadian political party that I thought was going to save me, it was because it was one of the ways that we as human beings, sitting in this room, have within our artillery to fight against what is happening to our lands and our water, not just here in Canada but around the world.”
“The minute I decided to vote, it wasn’t a vote for a Canadian political party that I thought was going to save me, it was because it was one of the ways that we as human beings, sitting in this room, have within our artillery to fight against what is happening to our lands and our water, not just here in Canada but around the world.” – Glenda Abbott
Abbott added the upcoming election is already historically different for aboriginal voters.
“In the Canadian political system for the first time in history … do you have two parties talking about nation to nation agreements with First Nations or indigenous people,” she said.
With around 50 indigenous candidates running, MPs would bring insight into what it’s like to come from a community that has to boil their water and to be “the most oppressed people who walk these lands,” according to Abbott.
The power of her vote resonated with Maurice Bear.
“I look at it this way, our people in the past have signed a lot of things that people didn’t understand … Things have happened that have taken away our promises in the treaties,” he said after the panel discussion.
“If we go to the polls we have to choose the right people who understand those concepts and be able to say ‘no. This is not right for us. This is what we need to do as a nation.’ If you don’t go and vote you won’t have the opportunity.”
NDP Battlefords-Lloydminster candidate Sandra Arias decided to attend the panel to support all discussions around indigenous voters.
“I think there was a really strong message of sovereignty here and it means different things to everyone,” she said. “But I also think that there is going to be a lot of First Nations showing up at the polls. I really do believe that and I see it here tonight.”
Even with some panel members arguing for indigenous voters to stay home on Oct. 19, Arias said she is optimistic.
“I know that they are paying attention and they know what’s been going on with the government,” she said. “I can’t really answer to what’s going to happen, I don’t know. But I know that the general consensus out there is that something has to change.”