The Indigenous Vote

Sooner or later, politicians who mistake alienation for apathy are in for a big surprise

IndigNation by Bev Cardinal

Many Indigenous people I know do not vote in federal, provincial or municipal elections. They never have. They don’t intend to.

Why is that, you may ask. 

Think about it. Would you want to participate in a process that defines itself as “democratic” and then proceeds to create laws, policies, systems and institutions deliberately designed to exterminate, transform and assimilate you, your ancestors, your family and your descendants?

I think not.

In other corners of the world, people flee such situations. We call these people “settlers”, “refugees” and “political exiles” — and now, in 2020, “newcomers”. Whatever the term, Canada is a welcoming place that newcomers are proud to call “home”. When they eventually take the Oath of Citizenship, they trust that Canada values democracy and that Canadian democracy is for all.

But what about the people who already live here?

Givers And Takers

In the 18th and 19th centuries when Canada was being “explored”, “harvested”, “claimed” and “settled” by visitors from the two nations that would eventually create a Canadian democracy, our Indigenous ancestors had no desire to go elsewhere. We had occupied this land and its various territories for tens of thousands of years — why would we leave?

The objective of Indigenous peoples then, as it is now, was the creation of peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with the newcomers.

We’re still extremely interested in achieving this outcome. But we’re getting a bit more impatient. Because alas, the so-called democracy that was created in the 1867 Confederation did not, and still does not, genuinely include us.

In fact, that newfound democracy went so far as to deem it illegal for Indigenous peoples to participate in it until 1960. 

Which brings us back to that nagging little issue of mutual benefit. Not much evidence of it, then or now.

So yeah, all of this may have something to do with our continued hesitancy to vote. 

The Status Quo Blows

Indigenous peoples’ exclusion from public policy debates has led to a lack of trust in democratic processes. This is a situation that will take generations to rectify. And so, as we prepare to consider whether or not we will vote in this provincial election, I’m pretty sure guys like Scotty Moe and his ilk are counting on our lack of participation. He, his government and many of its supporters simply do not give a shit that up to 17 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population are almost all completely disengaged from the democratic process. All evidence points to the fact that we are inconsequential to him and his government’s decision-making.

But like they say, “Be careful what you wish for”. Because here’s the rub.

In Saskatchewan, as elsewhere across the country, the 153-year-old status quo is no longer good enough for Indigenous peoples. It’s not good enough to be underemployed, undereducated and to have the province’s worst physical and mental health outcomes. It’s not acceptable to have the poorest living conditions both on- and off-reserve. It’s not okay that more of our children are in state care than “participated” in 120 years of residential schools.

And it’s not good enough that our children and youth — some as young as eight years old — are killing themselves more in Saskatchewan than in any other part of this country. 

Whether Indigenous citizens vote on Monday, Oct. 26 or not, the rapids in the river ahead will keep getting rougher. The challenges are deeply embedded and solutions require the highest priority attention. We must all understand that the future of our province — indeed our nation — requires genuine, meaningful participation by all citizens if we are going to leave this place better than we found it.

Politicians: discount the Indigenous vote at your peril.