Smoke Signals

This past weekend my home community of Wasauksing First Nation voted in a new Chief and Council. Members elected a new leader and a very different supporting council. I’m not going to comment on the results of this campaign in order to be fair and respectful (it’s a small rez where everyone knows everyone), but I’d like to point out the relative success of the process, particularly mail-in balloting for off-reserve members. I don’t know what percentage of the votes were mailed in and I’m not sure if those figures will be public, but the fact that members who live in urban and distant settings are continually engaged in the process is an ongoing victory.

I was fortunate to be raised in my community surrounded by family, friends, and an emerging Anishinaabe cultural renaissance. I left the rez to pursue post-secondary education and a career, as did many of my relatives and peers. I haven’t been able to return to live there (yet) because my career path isn’t conducive to that (at the moment). But I go home regularly to visit and I still feel part of it. Wasauksing has made me who I am today and I love it with all my heart. But at the end of the day I am an “Urban Indian” and there’s no denying that.

The fact is, more than half of the people who have membership in the Wasauksing band are Urban Indians. When I last checked, the stats weren’t available, but Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s community profiles used to say that Wasauksing had a total band membership of about 1000, with 400 living on the reserve. That was years ago and the numbers have certainly grown. But prior to 1999, those living off-reserve couldn’t vote in band elections. The Supreme Court of Canada’s Corbiere Ruling changed that, and the band election process continues to evolve with each subsequent election.

Fortunately, I didn’t really know off-reserve voting life prior to Corbiere. I was 20 when that ruling came down, and have been able to vote in every election since. I’ve mailed in ballots from Toronto, Akron Ohio, Winnipeg, and now Ottawa. It’s a right I’m glad I’m entitled to so far from my community, and it makes me feel proud and connected every time I drop that envelope in the mailbox. Many of us who exercise this right still care deeply about our home communities and have close ties to it. We deserve our say and we’re happy to voice it.

Wasauksing’s elections are every two years. Over the past two campaigns I’ve noticed candidates appealing directly to off-reserve voters for support via Facebook and email lists. Some of these modern smoke signals have swayed my decisions in the past on who to vote for. Modern plumes of ambition coming our way from home, hoping to draw an even bigger one back. As Canada’s Aboriginal people continue to carve out their identity across this country, this process will keep modernizing, engaging all band members living afar to strengthen our collective voice and move forward.