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Rick Harp's blog

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Co-founder and president of the INDIGENA Creative Group, Rick Harp's 15+ years in journalism include his long stint as a host/producer with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Prior to setting up mediaINDIGENA.com -- an interactive, multimedia magazine dedicated to Indigenous news, views and creative expression -- Rick served as Artistic Director for the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. A proud member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, Rick currently lives in Winnipeg.

How 'Indians' might actually get to pick the next Indian Affairs minister

| April 3, 2011
How 'Indians' might actually get to pick the next Indian Affairs minister

As we lurch towards the end of week one of this 41st Canadian federal election, I am particularly interested in those races where the Aboriginal vote could play a key role by virtue of their numbers. And few are more interesting or potentially consequential than the contest that's on now in the B.C. riding of Vancouver Island North.

That's because Vancouver Island North is represented by none other than current Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John 'No Race-based Fishery' Duncan. And last time around, the Honourable member and rookie cabinet minister just barely eked out a victory for his party over his closest rival, as seen by the CBC election results from 2008.

A total of 57,162 votes were cast in the last election in Duncan's riding, a race he won by just 2,485 votes, or apx. four per cent more than the second-place NDP candidate. Here's the thing: Aboriginal people make up 9% of that riding, or up to double the margin of victory.

In 2008, there were 88,077 electors on Elections Canada's list for the district. According to a Nov. 2010 piece in the Georgia Straight:

In Duncan's riding of Vancouver Island North, which the Conservatives won by less than 2,500 votes in 2008, there were 10,065 residents of aboriginal descent. This is according to a page compiled by Statistics Canada.

Even if we assume half of that total Aboriginal population in this riding is of voting age, that's still 5,033 people -- more than enough to cancel out the 2,485 votes it took to get Duncan into office, should they vote as a bloc.

In other words, it could be Indians who hold the fate of the Indian Affairs minister in their hands.

And before anyone else says it, I am well aware that my headline is technically misleading, in that Indians may not actually get to 'pick' the next Indian Affairs minister, but, should they decide to collectively exercise their electoral muscle (not to be confused with pectoral muscle), they sure as hell will get to veto the current one. Call it the first shot fired across the bow by the brown baby boom. (I also acknowledge I am substituting 'Indians' for all Aboriginal people in the riding, essentially for poetic license. A more exact number-crunching needs to be done.)

Now, of course, I'd be the last person to assume that every Indian opposes the Conservative party: indeed, some are proudly card-carrying members. All I'm concerned with here is what I find to be something of a delicious irony: that, for once, Indians will get the chance to say 'yay' or 'nay' to whoever lords over them as minister of their 'Affairs.'

True, it'd be a symbolic (and, some might say, mostly-hollow) victory, but if nothing else, it could send a message as to what we think of what's being done on our collective behalf. And if it starts to awaken us to our voting power if and when we do act as a bloc, that might not be such a bad thing either.

And so, enemies of the current office-holder of the Indian Affairs department, you now have the means of initiating a "Dump Duncan" campaign.

Duncan devotees, you should now be aware of what you could be up against should you wish to protect your recently installed Captain of the Indian Industry. Proceed accordingly.



I concur with KenS: mobilizing the vote for this purpose -- however symbolic or consequential it may be -- could translate into the greater, more lasting legacy of people organizing and connecting going forward, the critical mass of which could be built upon for other, more profound purposes.

Given how much of politics is symbolism, though, I'd argue that it does indeed count for something that "Indians" can effectively hold a referendum on the performance of the Indian Minister, and hold the balance of power for once on a decision that affects them. With every seat mattering these days, Indians causing the would-be governing party to lose a seat at the polls would arguably be of no small consequence.

For example:

You launch a communities based campaign to boost turnout. If people like it, and pick it, it will roll along with its own momentum.

If there is a substantial boost in turnout, it will happen in the context of what is virtually guaranteed to be a close race. If Duncan is unseated, thats a powerful message.

Message deleivered.

Lots of things lerned and skills developed and spread around.

Talk about where you might want to go with it. Other communities will take note and have their own discussions.

That actually misses the point a bit.

Depending on who is doing it, it can be about speaking.

Depends on who is doing it. and for what reason.

I think that figuring out ways to "boost turnout" is problematic. It continues a long legacy of not listening.

For anyone that is interested, the Advance Polls offer a nifty way to boost turnout in FN communities.

I've done it in a way that does not use the dry and alienating methods of conventional campaigns. Works 'viraly'- and did so before Internet social networking.

If you want to talk about it, send me a private message by clicking on the KenS in the header.

He did say it would be largely a symbolic move.

But I think the flexing of muscle is useful in its own right.

If voter turn-out in the many FN communities went up substantailly when there was a campaign for it, that would get noticed.

What would the alternative be? A kinder, gentler Indian Agent?

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