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A Liberal victory may improve fortunes of First Nation communities across Canada

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Image: Flickr/Ben Powless

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If you ask me the best part of these elections, it would have to be the Conservative PR machine announcing that Stephen Harper was stepping down as party leader even before Harper himself could take the stage last night and give his concession speech.

Apparently, the ABC "Anything But Conservative" and the #HeaveSteve campaign worked.

I also know that anyone who didn't make the effort to vote -- and no, I'm not talking about Indigenous sovereignty supporters who do not participate in the Canadian democratic process for ideological reasons -- should be kicking themselves right now.

The voter turnout for these elections has been the highest we've seen since 1993 with more than 17 million Canadians casting a ballot, hoping to improve their fortunes with a change of power in Ottawa.

At least 68.49 per cent of eligible Canadians voted in this election, as of 2:40 a.m. last night.

I just want to take a second to address all those too-postmodern-to-vote Canadians who thought that by not voting, they was somehow sticking it to "The Man" when they are in fact doing exactly what "The Man" wants them to do -- apathy wins elections. There, I just needed to get that off my chest.

According to data from 2011, collected by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Indigenous-identified individuals make up four per cent of the country's population. And they came out to vote in unprecedented numbers.

There were reports of reserve polling stations running out of ballots due to the high rate of unregistered voters turning up after having been motivated to vote.

According to APTN, the Onigaming First Nation in northwestern Ontario and the Siksika First Nation in Alberta both ran out of ballots throughout the day, but had them replenished for the evening.

Yes, the bad news is that they ran out of ballots but the good news is the unprecedented voter turnout.

Part of the surge of voters was the ABC factor as it is not secret that Harper is no neechi to Indigenous people. And then there is the Harper plus Breazeau factor -- with neechis like these, who needs enemies?

Much of the success in boosting the voter turnout rate is due to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Perry Bellegarde, who among other chiefs and Indigenous leaders, urged all First Nation community members to vote. The AFN focus was on spreading awareness and political literacy.

Tyrone Souliere published an open letter in the Anishinabek News where he noted, "the government has proven that they do not respect First Nation leadership nor do they respect the wishes and rights of the First Nation people. It is therefore up to the people to change the government, by engaging the power of their numbers to achieve proper representation."

By voting for the Liberal party under Justin Trudeau, the Liberal party platform pledges to:

 

  • Rebuild the relationship between aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
  • Call a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
  • Implement all 94 recommendations from Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Create more transparency and accountability with First Nations; pass legislation in consultation with First Nations people on implementing the reforms.
  • Provide stable, predictable funding for First Nations education to close the "unacceptable gap" in learning outcomes for First Nations students.
  • Add $515 million a year to funding for First Nations education, rising through the mandate to a total of $2.6 billion. Add another $500 million over three years for education infrastructure and $50 million more a year for a program that helps aboriginals in post-secondary education.

 

I want to add that I am very aware of Pierre Trudeau's troubled relationship with First Nations communities across Canada with the publication of his White Paper in 1969. Knowing our history is important so we can built a solid foundation for our future -- both for the "Indian" and the "settler."

Written into the White Paper, the Liberal government proposed,

"to fast track the investigations of outstanding land claims and then terminate all treaties. After this the department of Indian affairs would be dissolved and Indigenous people stripped of their status en masse. It was in effect a proposal to speed up the assimilationist mission of The Indian Act, which has been slowly chipping away Indigenous communities since its creation in 1876. The reserve land would be transferred to the Bands and the residents would be subject to the provincial and territorial laws that apply to settler Canadians. They would also receive the same services both provincial and federal. The reserves would have essentially become municipalities."

That said, I am also aware of the strong push back from Indigenous communities.

The Indian National Brotherhood issued a statement in opposition to the White Paper declaring:

"We view this is as a policy designed to divest us of our Aboriginal, residual, and statutory rights. If we accept this policy, and in the process loose rights and our lands, we become willing partners in culture genocide. This we cannot do."

The Trudeau government formally retracted the White Paper on March 17, 1971.

I know the issue of "sins of the father" was raised a few times in the context of Pierre and Justin, but I feel it unwise to judge Justin Trudeau in this manner. Only time will tell if he can steer his party to implementing his Aboriginal promises.

But as far as promises go, I understand why some would be wary. It is only fair for the Liberal party to accept First Nation band councils and community's skepticism with an open heart.

Starting by implementing the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a strong first step.  

As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper did offer a statement of apology from the government to former students of the residential school system; though many at the time, and still do, find his apology on behalf of Canada as a nation and the Canadian government lacking in sincerity.

Mostly because the actions of the Canadian government -- and not just the previous Harper government but every political party that has held a government in Canada, as well -- does not reflect the same apologetic stance.    

On one hand, Harper said, "we are sorry" and yet two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade.

Shoal Lake First Nation, on the border between Ontario and Manitoba, has been under a boil water advisory for 17 years.

Just recently, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to help pay for much needed infrastructure services to the area, but the Conservatives balked at the request that the federal government help pay for one-third of the cost; the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba stepping up to pay their one-third.

Both the federal Liberal party and the NDP have promised to fund the road if elected in October so hopefully the Liberals will make a statement of intent soon.

It is a tragic story indeed that a crowdfunding campaign had to be launched in the first place due to the lack of apologetic good will towards the First Nation community.

Hopefully with the Liberal win in this election -- and a majority rule in the House of Commons -- the fortunes of First Nations communities across Canada will improve.

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Image: Flickr/Ben Powless

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