In many First Nation communities the voter turnout for federal elections is low. Rock bottom in fact. That has been the case in our Journal reporting in Fort Chipewyan and other small communities in the municipality of Wood Buffalo for decades, and the pattern is echoed across the country.
If you are not happy with the way things are now, you should make your vote count for something, and maybe then the changes you want will come.
It could be apathy, or perhaps there is a sense of hopelessness, since many indigenous communities are minorities in large ridings. Some First Nations members boycott elections, a symbolic act because they do not feel the federal government represents them. Whatever the reason, not using your vote takes away your power in a national process that you are a part of, like it or not.
When a group of people combine and focus their individual power, it can turn into a force to be reckoned with. That is what makes change happen.
Elections are a numbers game and in many ridings a small number of votes separates the winner from the second-place finisher. A few hundred votes can make a huge difference. In a case like that, every individual vote matters – very much.
Elections, by design in a democracy, offer the possibility of being a time of change. If you are not happy with the way things are run, you should make your vote count, and maybe then the changes you want will come.
First Nation and Inuit Canadians have more reasons to get the vote out than anyone, and so much to gain if the right people are elected. In a new campaign, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) came up with the following list, part of a call to action. It is enough to make anyone want change.
- Half of First Nations children in Canada live in poverty.
- Life expectancy of First Nations citizens is 5-7 years less than other Canadians.
- 48 per cent of children and youth in foster care are Aboriginal while Aboriginal people make up only 4.3 per cent of the population.
- There are more than 40,000 Aboriginal children and youth in foster care — more than three times the number of children in residential schools at the height of the Indian residential schools system.
- Secondary school graduation rates are 35 per cent for First Nations students on-reserve, compared to 85 per cent graduation rates for other Canadians.
- There are more than 1,200 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
- Tuberculosis rates are 31 times the national average.
- Aboriginal people account for 12.2 per centof new HIV infections and 8.9 per cent of those living with HIV.
- Suicide rates are 5-7 times the national average.
- Aboriginal individuals account for almost one-quarter of all adults and youth incarcerated in Canada.
- 132 First Nations in Canada are currently under boil water advisories.
- 48 per cent of First Nation water systems are in high or medium risk.
- 130,197 new homes are needed on-reserve to account for population growth and condemned units, as well as the 1 in 4 adults living in overcrowded housing and deteriorated units.
- More than 4,300 First Nations citizens remain displaced from their homes due to flooding dating back to 2011.
- A 2-per-cent federal funding increase cap was put in place in 1996 as a “temporary” fiscal restraint measure. It has not been lifted. Since that time, the First Nations population has grown at a rate of more than 25 per cent. Federal transfers to provinces over that period have had annual increases of 3 to 6 per cent.
The list is detailed in the AFN “Close the Gap” campaign aimed at mobilizing First Nations voters. Details can be found on the AFN website and there is a compelling video of Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde speaking on it. The campaign points out why it is important for all First Nations Canadians to exercise their right to vote, and also why it is important for all Canadians to support investment in First Nations communities.
Bellegarde and the AFN are right. The quality of life gap between so many indigenous communities and the rest of Canada is unacceptable and every Canadian knows it. The situation has gone on far too long. A major effort is needed to make change happen.
Each of the three major political parties offers its solutions. If you do not like the performance of the party in power, choose between the other two. In the weeks ahead, listen to the three alternatives and judge them. Choose the one you feel will be the best and most trusted, then vote.
The way change will take place is through the commitment and action of many individuals working together – in the words of Bellegarde, “for a better collective future.” If you are a First Nations or Inuit person, or a Canadian who cares, you need to be a part of that.
Please go to the Assembly of First Nations website and check out the “Close the Gap” campaign: http://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/closing-the-gap.pdf.