I’m Ojibway, and I vote

One of my old Winnipeg connections shared this video with me via Facebook. Doug Thomas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs created it to engage Aboriginal people in the Canadian federal election campaign and encourage them to vote. It’s simple, straightforward, and honest – and hopefully, it’s effective. I already voted in the advance polls, and I hope my Aboriginal brothers and sisters across the country follow suit tomorrow on election day. As so beautifully articulated in the above piece, it’s about being counted, and most importantly, being heard.

First Nations leaders across Canada are encouraging all of us to vote. As we grow as a people, they want us to become a much more formidable presence in the Canadian political theatre. In many ridings across the country, we have the ability to sway the results. Aboriginal voter turnout is usually generally much lower than the rest of the population, but grassroots activists and leaders are trying to reverse that trend.

However, there’s been a movement afoot for years rooted in academia that urges Aboriginal Canadians NOT to vote. Intellectuals cite a variety of reasons for abstaining from the democratic process. Some say it compromises our sovereignty as nations. Others say it keeps us subservient in the traditional Canadian political hierarchy. While I have the utmost respect for some of these illustrious thinkers, I couldn’t disagree more.

This country and political system were forced upon us. We were strong-armed into signing deals that kept us subordinate and in the periphery. Today, many of our communities continue to suffer because of these old colonial ways and they’re still on a long path to healing. But excluding ourselves from the process that determines the leadership and direction of the entire system won’t solve these problems. We are a part of it, whether we like it or not, and it’s up to us to start exercising this basic democratic right. Federal leaders need to be aware of us and our potential as political juggernauts.

I vote in every election, from my rez right up to my federal riding. When you’re on the rez, It’s difficult to see how your vote will trickle down into any sort of meaningful change in your community. But as our numbers grow, and as we become more engaged in Canadian society at large, we won’t be ignored anymore. Our problems are Canada’s problems, and the only way Canada will recognize that is if we become engaged in Canada’s system.

I voted this year because I believe our people need to embrace Canadian politics and shape it to suit us. Even in cities, we’re becoming more visible. We’re emerging in many professional scopes. We need to obtain and develop the tools of Canadian democracy to carve out our own special place in it. Stepping aside will only keep us on the outside, perpetually looking in as our own rights outlined by this country deteriorate. These rights define us as a people in Canada. By voting, we’re standing up for them, and more importantly, we’re standing up for ourselves and future generations. I voted because I’m proud of who I am and I believe in the power of our people.

For a great list of ridings where the Aboriginal vote could make or break leaders, read this exceptional post by mediaINDIGENA’s Rick Harp.


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