To vote or not to vote… that is the Indigenous question Participation viewed by some as step backward in struggle to regain land, treaty rights

In my first trip to a movie theatre since the pandemic began, I went to see Mohawk director Tracey Deer’s 2020 film Beans.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In my first trip to a movie theatre since the pandemic began, I went to see Mohawk director Tracey Deer’s 2020 film Beans.

The movie is a fictionalized story about a young Mohawk girl in Kanesatake growing up during the 1990 Oka resistance, a time when her community struggled against the Canadian state over the town of Oka’s attempts to build a golf course on their homelands.

The film replays real-life scenes of angry Canadians harassing and spitting on Mohawks, burning effigies and politicians mocking Indigenous rights.

In one scene, police and military do nothing while Canadians throw rocks at Mohawk women and children, threatening their lives while they try to leave their community.

The film is a reminder of an event in recent memory, only 30 years ago, but also how even today, when Indigenous peoples stand up for their rights, they are met with vitriol, violence and a country that will stand by and watch while people are assaulted.

For many Indigenous peoples, this experience continues.

“The Canadian state has had the same “Indian policy” for decades, and each party pushes forward with the assimilation of First Nations, albeit with varying degrees of politeness…. It is a bitter irony to ask First Nations to vote in a governing system premised on their ongoing oppression.” — Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaq professor

I only have to offer examples such as the Mi’kmaq lobster disputes in Nova Scotia, the imposition of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territories or the massive epidemic of Indigenous homelessness and poverty in most Canadian cities to show what I mean.

No Canadian government has scratched the surface of solving these issues or even come up with any decent, workable ideas that don’t repeat problems of the past.

Things keep getting worse. While armed, life-and-death incidents happen sporadically — yet consistently — no one should forget that much of Canada exists on stolen Indigenous land, Indigenous and treaty rights are all too often ignored and scorned and virtually none of the issues that led to the Oka conflict in 1990 are solved.

The more time goes on, it seems, the more things stay the same for Indigenous peoples, no matter who is in office.

Like the army and police at Oka, Canadians seem fine with just watching the violence.

This is why Indigenous peoples are in an odd position during federal election campaigns.

The question is often not who to vote for but whether to vote at all.

“There is good reason why First Nations have traditionally resisted voting in Canadian elections,” Mi’kmaq professor Pam Palmater writes in a 2019 Maclean’s magazine piece. “The Canadian state has had the same “Indian policy” for decades, and each party pushes forward with the assimilation of First Nations, albeit with varying degrees of politeness…. It is a bitter irony to ask First Nations to vote in a governing system premised on their ongoing oppression.”

Any system built on the premise that Indigenous peoples are wards of the Crown and the Canadian state — and not co-governing partners who are supposed to share land and resources in every way, as treaties intended — is not worth participating in, many Indigenous advocates say.

This means, for many Indigenous peoples, voting is a step backwards for our communities, our laws and our land claims.

“First Nation individuals who run, campaign or vote,” Mohawk policy analyst Russ Diabo writes in a 2015 piece for Ricochet, “will be playing into the termination plan to assimilate First Nations into the Canadian mainstream as “Aboriginal Canadians” or Canadian citizens, thereby undermining their Indigenous communities’ and nations’ right of self-determination.”

For many Indigenous peoples, therefore, saying “no” to voting in Canadian elections is “yes” to an Indigenous future where sovereignty, self-determination and Indigenous nationhood is protected.

It’s worth noting that both Palmater and Diabo are not alone and are both well-known, former national chief candidates for the Assembly of First Nations, an organization that works intimately with the federal government, whomever is in office.

In Canadian politics, you must be represented on Canadian terms or nothing.

They’ve both thought long and hard on the merits of working with Canadian governments under the current relationship and advocate refusal instead of participation.

Simply put, this isn’t a couple of fringe, nonsensical voices; they are leading Indigenous thinkers.

It’s also worth noting that while both candidates did well — Palmater came second in 2012 with nearly 30 per cent of the support of all chiefs — neither was elected.

For the majority of Indigenous peoples, there is still merit in running and voting in Canadian elections, pointing to incremental changes in laws and policies, inspired in large part by Indigenous MPs, members in provincial governments and municipal bodies.

Most Indigenous voters see merit in having their voices heard, especially since they have been allowed to vote in federal elections only since 1960.

Indigenous people who run for office see inclusion in the Canadian state as valuable, even if means more status quo, pro-Canadian party politics in the end.

There is the option of course of being an “independent” but, frankly, these candidates have little role or purpose in government.

In Canadian politics, you must be represented on Canadian terms or nothing.

So, for Indigenous voters, the hardest decision comes well before the polls open, in deciding whether to participate Sept. 20.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Report Error Submit a Tip