Federal Election 2011: First Nations, Inuit and Métis Issues and Candidates

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Malinda S Smith, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Vice President, Equity Issues

With a week to go, and early voting already underway, issues and priorities for First Nations, Inuit and Métis have received surprisingly little national attention in the 2011 federal election campaign. This is true despite Aboriginal leaders and associations having engaged in robust advocacy using social media, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and virtual summits. What are the national priorities of First Nations, Inuit and Métis nations and leaders? What do the federal party platforms say about Aboriginal issues?  How are the federal parties doing in their efforts to recruit and nominate Aboriginal candidates?

Elections Canada’s web site includes ‘Information for Aboriginal Voters,’  which informs prospective Aboriginal voters about what they need to do in order to cast their ballots on the 2 May. Yet, it is not clear that parties are reaching out to Aboriginal voters who participate in federal elections. The best sources for information on Aboriginal leaders’ priorities are the web sites of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and the Métis National Council (MNC). All national Aboriginal leaders sent federal parties a questionnaire asking them to explain how they would respond to priority issues for Aboriginal people, were they elected. The parties’ responses can be found on the AFN , ITK and MNC’s  web sites. As well, social media sites such as Media Indigena,  the Indigenous Nationhood blog,  the BC Iconoclast’s blog  and the Pundits’ blog  contain useful inventories of Aboriginal issues in each of the federal party platforms, lists of Aboriginal candidates running for the federal parties, and data such as the percentage of Aboriginal voters in federal ridings.

Aboriginal Issues in the 2011 Federal Election
“First Nations issues do matter to all Canadians,” National Chief of the AFN Shawn A-in-chut Atleo explained to an audience of community and business leaders during a recent speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto. Through speeches, interviews, editorials in national media, and virtual townhalls, Chief Atleo has drawn attention to First Nations issues that warrant greater attention during this election and beyond. The AFN’s ‘First Nations Count: Our Communities, Our Nations, Our Voice’ identifies “specific steps that can and should be taken immediately to ensure fairness and equal opportunity. We encourage all federal parties to consider the facts and make a commitment to walk with First Nations on the path to reconciliation, to uphold our enduring relationships established through Treaty and in agreements and to support the capacity of our governments and citizens to advance our self-sufficiency.” Four clear priorities are laid out in ‘First Nations Count’ and were elaborated upon by Chief Atleo in a recent television interview. The four are affirmation, including the need to improve the nation to nation relationship, a recognition of rights and responsibilities, enabling conditions for First Nations to move beyond the Indian Act as well as for implementing Treaties and settling land claims; second, education including appropriate investment to achieve an equitable First Nations education system, and to preserve First Nations languages; third, partnerships to ensure sustainable First Nations economies that create jobs, new energy sources and environmental stewardship; and, finally community health and safety, including access to clean drinking water, decent housing, community justice and protection for women and children.

While some progress has been made over the past several years on issues that matter to First Nations, Inuit and Métis, such as the federal government’s apology for residential schools and the ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Chief Atleo cautions that we need to keep these in perspective. Deep social and economic gaps exist between First Nations people and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, gaps that lead to a loss of real human life and potential. Treaties need to be respected and land claims settled. Education is essential in order to bridge the economic and social gaps and prepare the next generation of leaders for First Nations governance. Chief Atleo stresses the need to close the education disparities that inhibit First Nations communities, such as a k-12 graduation rate of less than 50 percent, a postsecondary graduation rate of 8 percent, and the need for 60 schools to meet the needs of First Nations learners, particularly in remote areas. In addition to town hall meetings, the AFN has used blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and virtual summits on post-secondary education to explain its priorities.

Inuit Leader Mary Simon, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami noted in her ‘President’s Statement’ of the 21 April that, “There has been little national discussion of Inuit issues during this campaign.”  Simon has used public forums, blogging and podcasts to raise awareness about specific Inuit priorities and challenges during this as all other federal elections. In an 8 April blog she notes that, “Unlike the majority of other Canadians, it is a rare event for many Inuit to have the opportunity to see the federal candidates for their riding, other than on TV.” The vast Canadian geography, the unpredictable weather and logistics and expense of travelling in the north are among the challenges that limit the Inuit access to their representatives. These challenges are among the reasons why Simon supports electoral reform to expand the four federal ridings in the Arctic to better reflect the voices of the Inuit. “I believe given the geography that must be covered across Inuit Nunangat…we need more federal ridings in the Arctic, that would result in greater representation for Inuit and the Arctic in Parliament.”

To draw attention to Inuit issues, the ITK developed and posed 11 questions to federal parties on four Inuit priorities: first, on education, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 federal government apology for residential schools there is a need to address the enduring legacies by closing the resource gap that inhibits Inuit educational achievement as well as by supporting the preservation of Inuit language and culture. Second, there is a need to address housing shortages and the resulting overcrowding in Inuit communities. Third, Inuit face basic health and hunger challenges including tuberculosis, the mental health needs and facilities, and issues of hunger, nutrition and access to clean water. Fourth, the ITK identified issues related to the environment and wildlife and the need for an equitable partnership with the Inuit for resource development, environmental protection; the social implications of melting permafrost and warming and the impact on Inuit hunting and access to global markets with the European Union’s ban on wildlife. “These 11 questions are ITK’s way of ensuring these issues are addressed and that Inuit across Canada are given the opportunity to make an informed choice on May 2,” said President Simon. The responses to the ITK questions by the Bloc, Conservative Party, Green Party, Liberal Party and New Democrats are posted on the ITK’s Inuit Election 2011 web site:

Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council, wrote to all federal parties, requesting their policy positions on Métis issues. The letter to the parties covered 10 questions on four priority areas for the Métis. These four areas include: first, ‘economic issues,’ such as support for the Métis Entrepreneurship Fund; second, ‘social issues’ including the need for federal leadership in the context of a multilateral approach to Métis education and health, and support for the Urban Aboriginal Strategy,  which is aimed at meeting the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people in 11 of Canada’s largest cities. Third, the Métis questions focused on ‘fiscal issues’ related to Métis governance and citizenship; and, fourth, questions on ‘moral issues’ including equitable support for Métis veterans, compensation for Métis survivors of residential schools, and land claims settlement. As of the 10 April, the Bloc Québécois, Green Party and the New Democratic Party had responded to the questions and these have been posted to the Métis Nations Federal Election 2011 web site. The MNC site also includes its position on the 3000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls although, with few exceptions, this issue has received scant attention even in general discussions on violence against women.

Aboriginal Candidates in the 2011 Federal Election
Aboriginal people constitute about 4.0 percent of the population, and are the fastest growing demographic group in Canada. In this federal election Aboriginal candidates comprise 33 of the 1587 (2.1 percent) candidates who are members of four of the federal parties as well as one independent (Kevin Chicago-Boucher, Ojibway, Kenora, Ontario).

An Aboriginal Who’s Who of Canada’s 2011 Federal Election ” has been compiled by Tim Fontaine of Media Indigena and added to by other election bloggers. The BC Iconoclast, for example, has a breakdown of the candidates by party and province, with most of the Aboriginal candidates seeking office in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in Saskatchewan all three candidates are Aboriginal, and several other ridings including Nunavut and Churchill have two Aboriginal candidates. About a third of all the Aboriginal candidates are women.

Conservative Party of Canada: Five Aboriginal candidates are running for the CPC, which currently has an Aboriginal Caucus with six members and boasts the largest number of elected Aboriginal parliamentarians in Canadian history. The CPC 2011 Aboriginal candidates include Leona Aglukkaq (Inuit), Nunavut; Rod Bruinooge (Métis), Winnipeg South, Manitoba; Rob Clarke (Cree), Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in Saskatchewan; Shelly Glover (Métis), Saint Boniface, Manitoba; and Peter Penashue (Innu), Labrador.

Green Party of Canada: Eight Aboriginal candidates are running for federal office with the GPC: George Barrett (Métis), Labrador; John Kasudluak (Inuit), Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Québec; Eliza Knockwood (Mi’kimaq), Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Scott Milton (Cherokee), Calgary East, Alberta; George Morin (Cree), Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River,  Saskatchewan; Lorraine Rekmans (Algonquin), Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, Ontario; Jacqueline Romanow (Métis), Winnipeg Centre, Manitoba; and Alberteen Spence (Innu), Churchill, Manitoba.

Liberal Party of Canada: Eight Aboriginal candidates are running for office under the LPC banner. Currently the LPC has one elected member, an Aboriginal Electoral Endowment Fund to assist candidates and also an Aboriginal Liberal Caucus for MPs and Senators. The 2011 candidates include: Sydney Garrioch (Cree), Churchill; Joe Handley (Métis), Western Arctic; Gabe LaFound (Métis), Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, Saskatchewan; Jordan Laplante (Dene/Cree), Battlefords-Lloydminister, Saskatchewan; Paul Okalik (Inuit), Nunavut; Todd Russell (Métis), Labrador; Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux (Ojibway), York Simcoe, Ontario; and Karen Young (Dene), Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Alberta.

New Democratic Party: Eight candidates are running for office under the NDP banner. Currently, the NDP has an Aboriginal Commission which, among other things, advances policies of value to Aboriginal people, supports Aboriginal candidates and promotes the NDP in Aboriginal communities. The eight 2011 candidates include: Kevin Barr (Métis), Yukon; Tania Cameron (Ojibway), Kenora, Ontario; Lewis Cardinal (Cree), Edmonton Centre, Alberta; Jeff Horvath (Ojibway), Wild Rose, Alberta; Lawrence Joseph (Cree), Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, Saskatchewan; Edith Loring-Kuhanga (Gitxsan), Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia; Romeo Saganash (Cree), Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Québec; and Jennifer Villebrun (Métis), Peace River, Alberta.

This inventory of national priorities of Aboriginal nations and leaders and the list of Aboriginal candidates running for office in all federal parties highlight the diverse choices available to voters come 2 May. What remains to be seen over the next week and beyond this election is what will be done to address the important priorities identified by First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Malinda S. Smith is an associate professor of political science and the Federation’s Vice-President, Equity Issues.