Efforts ramp up to get First Nations voters to the polls this election

Connor Whitehouse is calling on Yukon First Nation youth to take part in the democratic process and cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election.

Connor Whitehouse is calling on Yukon First Nation youth to take part in the democratic process and cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election.

The 23-year-old member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation is also the Assembly of First Nations’ National Youth Council representative for the Yukon.

Whitehouse said he’s encouraging those under the age of 30 to get more familiar with the candidates and vote on Oct. 19.

“I want people to be engaged and have that aboriginal presence,” he said.

“There used to be a lack of interest in federal politics among youth but we’re seeing a big increase in that. There’s momentum for young adults and First Nations to really want to participate and make their mark.

Whitehouse said he’s been hearing a lot of interest and excitement from people his own age.

“I didn’t see a lot of that during the last election.”

According to the Elections Canada website, very little research has been dedicated to federal voter turnout among the Canadian aboriginal population.

That’s mostly because the agency doesn’t collect any information that would identify aboriginal voters.

But a 2011 study prepared for Elections Canada by researchers at Universite de Montreal and the University of Toronto found voter turnout among younger aboriginal Canadians was substantially lower than among older ones.

“According to our estimates, an aboriginal elector aged 25 or under has a 25-26 percentage point lower probability of voting than an aboriginal in the oldest age category (65 or over),” the report stated.

The Teslin Tlingit Council announced this week that it wants to reverse that tide and get more of its citizens to the polls.

The First Nation is hiring a registration officer to help citizens register to vote in the upcoming federal election.

The officer will be responsible for educating citizens on the importance of voting and the process.

“The Harper government is forcing us to do this with the recent unilateral changes they made to the elections act where it makes it harder for us aboriginal people to vote,” Chief Carl Sidney said in a news release.

The Fair Elections Act, passed last year, made changes to voter identification rules out of concern over voter fraud.

Voter identification cards can no longer be used at the polls. The cards were used by an estimated 400,000 Canadians in the 2011 federal election.

There have also been changes to vouching. In the past, voters with proper identification could vouch for the identity of another person at the polling station, but not anymore.

David Rutherford, a media relations advisor with Elections Canada, said there are a number of outreach programs taking place in the Yukon to increase aboriginal voter turnout.

They include community relations officers in every First Nation and information sharing agreements with the Assembly of First Nations.

And a pilot project, in partnership with the National Association of Friendship Centres, will allow people to vote at friendship centres by special ballot from Oct. 5-8, he said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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