First Nations could be a voting force to be reckoned with

Here in the mountains the harvest moon hangs like a great glimmering eye in the sky. When you’re surrounded by cordillera, shadows become alive…

Here in the mountains the harvest moon hangs like a great glimmering eye in the sky. When you’re surrounded by cordillera, shadows become alive in the phosphorescent glow.

There is a sudden and palpable sense of wilderness and stepping outside to retrieve a fresh jug of water from the shed becomes a journey of recollection. This head-on connection to the sheer size of the country grounds you.

I tend to forget that. We all do.

When you’re safely ensconced in a home, a community, a lifestyle, the idea of the enormity of the country you call home is an elusive thing. As a species we tend toward burrowing, nesting, insulating ourselves and it takes a big event to coax us out to survey things.

Here, we exist on well water. Rustic, quaint and charming as that is, we can’t drink it. There’s far too much mineral in it and we have jugs delivered biweekly and the maintenance of the dispenser is a chore that falls to me. The shed, which we just built this past spring, is a 10-metre jaunt and on a moonlit night, exhilarating. To stand in thrall of the Earth is awesome every time.

I feel detached and connected at the same time. Standing here, in the middle of our property, bordered by lake and mountain, I feel like a part of my people. Very Ojibway, Native, Indian. But I also feel very alone. Here, in the moonlight, against the full press of Canada, I am one native man, singular and defined, but a powwow of one.

It’s curious then that my thoughts would lead me to the upcoming election. Looking out across the trees and into the sweep of this geography, I realize suddenly that there is a country there. There is a population and a vital part of that huge demographic are my own people. We exist, a million strong, in every part of Canada, under various names and affiliations, and we count.

We represent a viable, election-turning block of voters. If, by way of example, there are a third of us who are eligible to vote, that means 300,330 ballots. That’s one third of a million possible yeas or nays and a powerful reason for politicians to court us and endorse our issues in their platforms.

For us, it would seem an amazing means to an end.

We have endured decades of bickering and failed negotiations in the pursuit of full recognition of our rights within the framework of the Canadian Constitution. We’ve lost court cases and we’ve won some. We’ve been swept aside by changes in government. We’ve been ignored on the slates of issues national party leaders promulgate when the writ is dropped.

But like me on this moonlit night, Native voters feel alone. We’ve never voted much as a general rule. Our history of unfulfilled relationships with Canada’s revolving door of governments has left us disillusioned and anxious. There’s a pervasive sense of powerlessness that comes when neglect is a life principle. We’ve become mistrustful. We’ve grown ambivalent. We’ve ceased to care enough to try.

But the tide of change that resides within our specific demographic is enormous. We carry, by sheer force of numbers, the power to sway a vote. If we chose to organize and march to the polls as a united front and add our endorsement to a worthy party or candidate, we would set an awesome tide loose on the political shore of Canada. But we’re still waiting for someone to recognize us and the power we carry.

So far no there’s been no word on Native issues from the hustings. Instead, the political mainstream marches on and for all the pooping puffins and all the minor league mud-slinging, there’s no attention at all paid to the incredible swing vote waiting in the woods. It’s time for Canadian politicians to affirm us by campaigning on our issues. It’s time for us, as a potential voting block, to step forward and declare that we’re ready for the arena.

We need to get out the Native vote. That’s the straight truth of it. As I write this all parties are turning their attentions to grabbing the votes of women and we represent as much influence in the outcome. As nations of people we need to get beyond the ambivalence and mistrust and create a momentum for change by using the system. We need to elect more aboriginal MPs. We need to step in and influence riding associations — and we need to vote.

There’s simply no point in grousing if you don’t cast a vote, if you don’t participate. An aboriginal maxim teaches that nothing in the universe ever grew from the outside in. The time to effect change is now.

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