To vote or not to vote. That is the question facing many First Nations people in Canada as the nation heads into its fourth federal election in just seven years.
As the five main parties launch their campaigns ahead of the May 2 election, many aboriginals feel the debate has so far lacked any attention to First Nations issues.
“During the election period, we need to drive our issues to all parties and all Canadians,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.
“Federal governments continue to fall short in meeting the urgent needs of our communities, including the need for equitable funding for First Nations schools, education systems and support for our students,” Atleo said in a communiqué. “There is still a major disparity in funding and support for our First Nations learners. Our high school and post secondary graduation rates are nowhere close to the same levels as the rest of the country. We need at least sixty new schools and dozens more require major repairs. We have the solutions but we require federal engagement in a manner envisioned in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The AFN sent a questionnaire to the five party leaders seeking their views on five different issues, but have yet to hear back from the leaders.
Meanwhile the voter fatigue and apathy that has swept Canada has also affected First Nations.
“I refuse to legitimize the colonizing government with my free will. I have my own governments that I want to uphold, traditional governments,” said Na'cha'uaht/Kam'ayaam (Cliff Atleo Jr.), a PhD student in political science at the University of Alberta and a first cousin to the national chief. “Of course, countless aboriginals will once again say that we must be involved, and have our say. How has that worked out so far? Indigenous friends don't let their aboriginal friends vote in Settler Elections."
Chief Atleo said that while he will be voting himself, he as head of a nonpartisan organization can neither require other First Nations citizens to vote, nor tell them whom to vote for.
“It’s not my place to get people out to the polls,” Atleo told a TVO reporter. “It’s up to the Nations to decide if they’re going to participate actively through voting.”
Twenty-one First Nations candidates are running for office in the federal election, in constituencies from coast to coast to coast, representing all parties except the Bloc Quebecois.
The AFN will host a virtual summit on April 14 to discuss the issues that matter to First Nations. They’ve also invited all the political parties to a special town hall discussion on April 27.