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A growing amount of literature is becoming available that discusses why Indigenous Peoples vote or, more commonly, don’t vote.

I want to share a quick summary of what Elections Canada has to say about this subject. Various researchers have identified a number of reasons for low Aboriginal participation in federal elections.

This is an excerpt – the full article may be found at: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/abor&document=index&lang=e

 

Historical. The right to vote in Canadian federal elections came to many Aboriginal people relatively recently. Inuit people received the right to vote in 1950. It was only in 1960 that First Nations people living on reserves acquired the right to vote at the federal level without having to give up their status under the Indian Act. As one researcher has noted, there is a history in Canada of using Aboriginal “enfranchisement as a tool of assimilation” and the memory of this injustice lingers, even among those Aboriginal electors who came of age after 1960.

Socio-economic. Aboriginal people number disproportionately among the poor, the homeless, the transient and those without post-secondary education. Aboriginal communities are also much younger than the general population. As the electoral behaviour research has consistently shown, each of these factors – poverty, mobility, low education and youth – is associated with low levels of voting.

Communications. A study … cited inadequate media coverage, insufficient availability of media, and a failure to provide campaign materials and issues in Aboriginal languages as being among the factors that discourage Aboriginal participation. Communication and transportation issues are particularly important in the North, where communities are small and relatively isolated. Another difficulty arises from the fact that modern election campaigns rely heavily on mass media and new information technologies to convey messages to voters while in many Aboriginal communities high value is placed on personal contact and face-to-face dialogue.

Geographic dispersion. It has been pointed out that there are very few electoral districts in which Aboriginal people constitute a significant enough percentage of the electorate to wield actual influence in electoral politics. As Table 2 shows, Aboriginal people constituted the majority of electors in only 3 of the 301 federal electoral districts in place at the time of the 2001 census. They constituted sizeable minorities – that is 20% or more of the electorate – in seven additional ridings.

 

Gary’s Note: This has now changed drastically with a few dozen federal ridings now in play and potentially to be determined by the power of the Indigenous vote! See the following link for more info: http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/afn-identifies-51-federal-ridings-where-aboriginal-vote-could-decide-majori

 

Political. Perhaps most important among the factors explaining low levels of Aboriginal participation in federal elections are “feelings of exclusion, … a perceived lack of effectiveness, the non-affirmation of group difference by and within electoral politics, and the virtual lack of a group’s presence in electoral politics.” At the same time, “[Aboriginal people] see themselves as distinct from other Canadians and as belonging to ‘nations within’; and as nations that are not represented ‘within’.” However, Alan Cairns, one of Canada’s leading scholars of Aboriginal politics, has argued that it is not incompatible to be actively involved within one’s own community and to participate in the federal (and other) electoral processes. In his view, given that “Aboriginal people are inevitably caught up in the consequences of federal, provincial, territorial and, often, municipal politics, … participation in these arenas is an essential support for self-government.”

The above provides a decent overview of the factors affecting the voting intentions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. You, as an individual, will make a decision on whether or not to participate in the next set of provincial or federal elections and beyond. If you choose to participate, be informed and take action. If you choose not to participate, I hope you are doing so with a clear conviction to take peaceful but active action to have your voice heard in some other way.