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Native women's leader looks to rock the vote

The Native Women's Association of Canada is gearing up to fight its political opponents on their own turf: at the ballot box.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada is gearing up to fight its political opponents on their own turf: at the ballot box.

Michelle Audette, the president of the association, spoke at the Brothers in Spirit symposium in Whitehorse on Tuesday.

The only way Canada’s First Nations are going to see better representation for themselves is if they enter the political arena with force, Audette said. She’s thinking of throwing down the gauntlet herself.

“Somebody’s making decisions for my present and my future in Ottawa without my consent,” Audette said.

“I might run in the next federal election. This government needs to change.

Let’s stand up. Elections are crucial. It’s a right that belongs to you, and I’m going to use that right.”

Audette pointed to the recent parliamentary report, which rejected a widespread call for an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women, as proof that the government is not listening to indigenous Canadians.

The report was released Friday, to the fury of aboriginal groups and opposition leaders. It also came just as the death of Loretta Saunders made national news.

Saunders, an Inuk woman from Newfoundland and Labrador, was doing her thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University. Her roommates have been charged with first-degree murder in her death. She was 26 years old.

When tragedies befall non-indigenous Canadians like Nova Scotia’s Rehtaeh Parsons or B.C.‘s Amanda Todd, the government is quick to act, Audette said. But it ignores the issue when the country’s aboriginal women and girls are repeatedly victimized.

“What did Stephen Harper do? He visited (Parson’s) family, sat down with the family, and shared how sorry he was for this loss, how unfair it was. He came back to Ottawa and said to all his ministers, we need to find solutions so we can eradicate that kind of violence,” she said.

Two years after Todd’s death, Canada now has a new cyberbullying law aimed at combating the online harassment that lead to her and Parsons taking their own lives.

But the government still refuses to call a public inquiry into the estimated 800 missing and murdered aboriginal women. “Meanwhile we’re losing thousands and thousands of aboriginal women,” Audette said.

“Loretta Saunders made the national and international news, but Harper never called her family to say how sorry he was for her loss,” she said.

The solution, Audette says, is to get more indigenous Canadians directly involved in Canadian politics, and the coming Quebec provincial election is the perfect place to start, she said.

“The beauty now is that we have more and more power with the social media and the leadership in our communities, people will make a difference. We have more power than we think,” she said.

“As an example, last November, there were five candidates running for the municipality of Sept-Iles, which has a population of around 25,000.

“Only one candidate - Rejean Porlier - extended his hand to the Innu population and it made the difference. He won the election because of the Innu vote, even with a small campaign. Imagine what we can do if we prepare the troops, educating and raising awareness,” she said.

Contact Jesse Winter at