In a most significant and historical move, First Nations across Canada are encouraging their people to vote in the 2015 Federal Election.
On Thursday, October 15th, 2015, Batchewana First Nation (BFN) held a ‘Rally the First Nation vote’ event. Leaders from within BFN, M’Chigeeng First Nation (Manitoulin) and Garden River First Nation invited members of BFN to come out and become engaged in a political process that, for many, has conflicted with how they view elections and their role in elections. Chief Sayers assured the gathered, that by voting, they are in no way, sacrificing or compromising their Fist Nations values, ideals and nationhood.
The event opened with Smudge, and prayers, seeking to unite all assembled in a common vision for truth and justice. Chief (former) Vernon Syrette, BFN, spoke about the history of oppressive policies from both the Liberal and Conservative governments that sought to destabilize First Nations people. “As a First Nation person, this is the first time i will be voting in a Federal Election. The reason for this, is that the conservative government has been very damaging to First Nations people.” said Syrette.
BFN Chief Dean Sayers laid the groundwork for historical reference, and how the issues today impact First Nations people. “We expect to live the same quality of life that mainstream Canadians do.” said Chief Dean Sayers. “On July 1st, 1867, the British North America Act, section 91, then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald said essentially, ‘I’m going to unilaterally look after you, and make decisions on your behalf’. This was the beginning of the relationship that would continue to roll out between First Nations people and Canadian Federal governments leading up to today. “There has never been an extinguishment of our treaty rights by First Nations.” said Chief Sayers.
“I cannot tell you which party to vote for, but I encourage you to vote for the party that honours the spirit of our Treaties. We need a good government at the table that values the intent of our pre-existing relationship. That they measure up to the legally binding relationship we have with Canada.” shared Chief Sayers.
Chief Tyrone Souliere (Garden River) said “There are many examples of how oppressive the Conservative government has been on First Nations people. The solution is to elect a government that does respect our people. We have the numbers to express our displeasure with the current government. Between Garden River and Batchewana we have 3,000 eligible voters, most of whom have never registered to vote. It would be a horrible day, on Tuesday Oct. 20th, if we didn’t get enough of our people out to get rid of the Conservative government. Once we leave here, I hope we go back to our families and encourage them to vote. It is practically a matter of life and death. We cannot survive another regime like we have had. Their objective has been to oppress and get rid of First Nations people. The Conservatives governments’ plan is to assimilate First Nations People. We cannot let that happen. Our power is in our numbers. Through leadership and organizing, we can vote as a block. We can do this. We can make a difference. Vote for which party best represents our treaties.”
Harvey Bell (BFN) shared “Whoever forms the government of Canada, we would like to see a better relationship and cooperation with them, especially with respect to issues around infrastructure. Bow Lake Wind Farm is an example of a project that is possible as First Nations people embark on a partnership with renewable energy. Today, it is one of the largest partnerships in Canada for renewable energy. We need to see cooperation with us, from whoever leads the country, as we build productive futures for our people.”
Deputy Grand Chief, Union of Ontario Indians, Glen Hare made an impassioned appeal to the assembled, to vote, especially as the issues pertain to child welfare, education, housing and traditional First Nation values for family. “There will never be another child scooped and taken away from our community. Enough is enough. Our children are not for sale.” he said. “The current government has done nothing about our Murdered and Missing women and girls.” They (Harper government) doesn’t even acknowledge that the issue exists.” adding “Harper said (at one time) ‘the issue isn’t on our radar.’
Deputy Grand Chief, Glen Hare also spoke to the issue of clean water. “There should be absolutely no boiled water advisories.” Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade, a CBC News investigation has revealed. The numbers show that 400 out of 618 First Nations in the country had some kind of water problem between 2004 and 2014. The longest running water advisory is in the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years. ( http://www.cbc.ca)
Deputy Grand Chief Hare said “It is our duty to do the right thing for our people. We have to defeat Harper. I pray I wake up on Tuesday (Oct. 20th) to a new Canada, intent on working with First Nations people.”
Attending the event were candidates NDP Skip Morrison, Green Party Kara Flannigan, and Liberal Party Terry Sheehan. Each candidate thanked the BFN for inviting them to speak at ‘Rally the First Nation Vote’, and to consider the platform they are putting forth, in relation to how they would support First Nations issues. It should be noted that Federal candidate Skip Morrison spoke in traditional Anishinabek language, which was applauded and appreciated by the crowd, numbering around 40 people. Former member of provincial parliament, NDP Bud Wildman was in the audience, and resoundingly welcomed as a friend of First Nations people.
For the first time in history, a Federal Polling Station will be located on Batchewana First Nation territory.
For more information about Rally the First Nation Vote visit: http://anishinabeknews.ca