THERE are more than 100,000 First Nations people in Manitoba.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/9/2011 (3673 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THERE are more than 100,000 First Nations people in Manitoba.

About half are over 18 and eligible to vote next week.

And at least one tribal council is doing what it can to ensure most of them do.

The Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council issued a special edition of its quarterly newsletter this week. Emailed copies were sent Monday and paper versions will be printed and on their way to the nine DOTC reserves. The hope, said DOTC chief executive officer Robert Daniels, is to give the 10,000 voters in the nine DOTC reserves the information and tools they need to participate in the provincial election.

"We need to get the message out, why it's important to vote," said Daniels.

Last spring, Daniels said a similar newsletter drove up voter rates in at least some DOTC communities. The newsletter includes practical information including who is eligible to vote, where to do so and what identification you need. There are submissions from the three main parties on what they offer to First Nations, a helpful checklist of questions to ask yourself as you decide which candidate you will support, including ensuring voters get their hands on flyers from all the candidates and look to see which ones make commitments that might help that particular voter.

There is a also a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to consider which party leader might be better at jigging, round dancing or powwow dancing.

A copy of the newsletter will be posted on the Free Press website and linked to from the Free Press Democracy Project Facebook page.

In 2007, most First Nations in Manitoba saw the lowest turnout for any of the province's communities. In the five ridings with more than half the population living on reserve, four had a turnout below 40 per cent.

In Long Plain, for instance, just 21 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot. But only half of those eligible to vote were even registered.

In the provincial election in 2003, only slightly more than one in four voters on reserve cast a ballot. In 2007, while turnout in the entire province was nearly 57 per cent, in Rupertsland (now Kewatinook) where more than 90 per cent of residents are First Nations, turnout was a provincial low of 33 per cent.

In his message to reserve residents in the newsletter, Daniels said First Nations people often turn out in high numbers for band elections but are indifferent to federal and provincial elections. It's a combination of not thinking the elections matter to them and not thinking their votes matter to the election.

Neither could be further from the truth, he said.

"First Nations and others belonging to the larger aboriginal family are an important factor," wrote Daniels. "Through participation, we need to ensure that our concerns and voices are heard. Our daily concerns are no different from those faced by Canadians in the larger mainstream of the society."

Daniels said provincial campaigns can be the hardest to get First Nations people interested in because for most issues, the province has no jurisdiction on reserves.

But Daniels said there are more and more areas where the province and Ottawa are working together to deal with issues facing First Nations, and voting in provincial elections is paramount to ensuring those issues get a prominent place on the agenda.

Daniels said the more people from reserves vote, the more attention issues important to them will get.

There are 28 ridings with First Nations populations representing more than 10 per cent of eligible voters. Ten of them have more than 20 per cent and five ridings draw more than half their populations from First Nations.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca