Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde has only a few words of advice to Indigenous people with a federal election on the horizon this fall – “get out and vote.”
Bellegarde says First Nations voters have the ability to sway a number of seats in the election but they need to participate.
He says Indigenous voters should do their research and vote for whatever party and candidate they think will represent them best.
“We need the number higher than 61.5 per cent (number of eligible on-reserve voters who voted in 2015 election),” he said. “And I would say look at the platforms, look at what’s transpired and make an informed choice.”
Status First Nations people have only had the right to vote in Canadian elections since 1960 and since then a majority have often chosen not to cast ballots.
However, according to Elections Canada, on-reserve voting appears to be on the rise in recent elections.
The number of eligible voters choosing to cast ballots went from just over 42 per cent in 2008 to just under 62 per cent in 2015 – an increase of about 20 points.
The voter turnout for the Canadian population as a whole in 2015 was 66 per cent.
Part of the increase in First Nations voter turnout in the last federal election was likely due to frustration with the previous Harper Conservative government and the Liberals making reconciliation a key part of their election platform.
Nevertheless, the Trudeau government has at times stumbled on its Indigenous agenda over the past four years.
In particular, the ouster of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from the party over the SNC Lavalin affair has not gone down well with a number of First Nations leaders.
This has led some commentators to speculate Indigenous voter turnout will drop in the upcoming federal election as cynicism with Ottawa politics once again sets in.
Bellegarde says it is not his role to endorse any particular party.
At the same time, he says the Trudeau government has mostly been a good government for First Nations people even if progress has not equaled parity just yet.
“Under this Liberal government, I can say they’ve done more for First Nations people than any government has for the past 50 years. Look at it and it’s factual. So that’s something to keep in mind,” the AFN Chief said.
Under current legislation, the election must be held between now and Oct. 21 but parties have already been in campaign mode for weeks.
Bellegarde was in Saskatchewan on Wednesday for the Treaty 6 Adhesion 130th anniversary celebration in Montreal Lake.
(PHOTO: Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde. File photo.)