If you were conducting an epidemiological study on Aboriginal peoples in Quebec you might come to the conclusion that we are allergic to ballot boxes. The First Nations voter is usually averse to both provincial and federal elections and that is reflected in the very low voter turnout. In most communities it’s considered traditional not to vote in outside elections.
First Nations peoples don’t have the history of another historically disenfranchised group, for instance black people in the United States, for whom signing up to vote was an act that would put their lives at risk in many regions of the land of the free.
Instead, First Nations here were rather apathetic about the whole thing. Even when we were told in 1969 that here in Quebec we could finally vote in a provincial election no one really did. They didn’t know the candidates, what they stood for and what a vote would do to make First Nations life better.
Candidates didn’t even court the Aboriginal vote in the beginning. Communities were isolated and could usually only be reached by air or canoe. The only interaction with outside authority involved the RCMP arresting someone for illegal possession of too much yeast (to make beer), to take children off to residential school or the Indian Agent making his rounds. Who would want to legitimize a system like that by voting for the politicians who had imposed it?
Thus it became a source of pride not to vote in outside elections. After all, weren’t we a separate and distinct nation? Many communities, such as the Mohawks, even to this day do not consider themselves Canadians or Quebecers.
Times are a’changing, however. With our increasing population we now have the ability to influence the outcome of the election in the northern Ungava riding. And like it or not, Quebec is our partner for the next 45years in the Paix des Braves, meaning we have a real stake in the outcome of provincial elections.
Personally, I am willing to vote in the March 26 Quebec elections, under certain conditions. Any candidate I would support would have to consider and actively work on First Nations issues.
The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador have come up with a good start with their “Final Submission to the Provincial Parties” paper.
They want commitments to no longer bypassing First Nations in government-related decisions that affect First Nations, honouring First Nations rights and having them respected by all administrative bodies authorized by the government. The AFN wants them to support the First Nations in remedying their socio-economic situation, including equitable access to lands and resources, the creation of 10,000 jobs and the construction of 10,000 housing units. Finally politicians should acknowledge the role and specific status of First nations in the development of Quebec regions and commit to fighting discriminatory attitudes towards First Nations.
The paper also includes that extinguishment of Aboriginal rights as part of a treaty or deal must end. Along with that any notions of territorial integrity or effective control of territory or non-Aboriginal sovereignty cannot be imposed upon First Nations peoples.
The paper is a good place to start and I would encourage any candidate seeking Aboriginal votes to give it a serious look and respond to it.
If in those areas we can affect the outcome of a vote and the candidate does respond then I would recommend we set aside the “tradition” of not voting and exercise our rights as to make a better life for all First Nations.