Progress on reconciliation, debate on climate change could bring out higher Indigenous vote in next election, advocates say

By Beatrice Paez and Palak Mangat

Lynne Groulx, executive director of Native Women’s Association of Canada, said that, anecdotally, she’s hearing that many Indigenous women intend to send a message in the polls and expects strong action on reining in climate change.

Some Indigenous leaders and advocates say there’s enough momentum towards reconciliation to energize voters in their communities to turn out in significant numbers in October, with climate change, the national inquiry’s calls to address the systemic racism faced by Indigenous women and girls, and pipelines potentially galvanizing the electorate, though it’s an open question whether they will help propel Liberals to another victory.

In the 2015 federal election, turnout on reserves jumped to 61.5 per cent from 47.4 per cent in 2011, according to Elections Canada. The agency does not maintain data on off-reserve Indigenous peoples, but the Assembly of First Nations identified 51 ridings where they have the potential to influence the electoral outcome. Its list was informed by First Nations population figures and by the competitiveness of the races. Of those 51 ridings, the AFN said there were 27 where Indigenous voters had a measurable impact—based on the margin of victory and the riding demographics.

“I want to increase that number as national chief. I always tell any potential Member of Parliament, ‘If you want to be an MP, you need to act on First Nations priorities,’ ” said AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde, in a phone interview. “I’d love to see 70 to 80 per cent. … We want to keep having that potential impact and influence in October.”

Pointing to the drop in boil-water advisories from 130 in 2017 to 58 as of the end of May, spending measures targeted at improving access to health care and housing, the passage of legislation aimed at preserving Indigenous languages, Mr. Bellegarde said, “we’re moving in the right direction.”

“You’ve got $21.4-billion over [several] fiscal years allocated to Indigenous priorities. Progress doesn’t mean parity,” Mr. Bellegarde said, noting that considerable gaps still exist. “Now, we’re gonna keep pushing for implementing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry’s calls for justice. We’ve got to deal with the transition to a clean economy and climate-change strategy.”

Last month, the national inquiry released its final report, outlining 231 recommendations—or “legal imperatives,” as the commissioners put it—that the government should adopt to address the root cause of the violence against Indigenous women and girls and gender-diverse people. The Liberals, in 2015, ran on a promise to open a probe in response to the efforts of groups such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada. It has since promised to develop a national action plan based on the MMIWG’s recommendations.

Lynne Groulx, executive director of NWAC, said that, anecdotally, she’s hearing that many Indigenous women intend to send a message in the polls and expects strong action on reining in climate change and a plan for implementing the inquiry’s recommendations reflected in parties’ platforms. “There’s so many issues that are so critically important right now,” she said. “The report is out; [Indigenous] women want to see which of the parties is dedicated to this. We want to see a very specific commitment to the calls for justice.”


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