To celebrate International Indigenous People’s Day, our guest blogger, Christina Coolidge, writes about her research into what the attitude of indigenous people is to voting in the Canadian elections. Christina is completing her undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. As an Indigenous Program Researcher she aims to build a bridge between Native and non-native people in the hope of enabling them to live together in the spirit of peace and understanding. She is a member of the Tseil-Waututh Nation also known as the People of the Inlet, which resides on unseeded Coast Salish territory. Her matrilineal ancestry includes Cree and Scottish.
1960 was the year Indigenous women in Canada were finally given the right to vote in Canadian elections. The last Indian Residential School, designed to ‘beat the Indian out of the child’, closed its doors only eighteen short years ago, in 1996. The history of oppression and genocide that has taken place in Canada is not ancient history. When posing the question to other indigenous people, about whether or not they vote, and why, I was met with two very distinct and opposing viewpoints; however, they each shared the common and collective memory of colonization. Through my research I discovered that many Indigenous people, representing many different nations, answered either:
Yes. It is important for us to vote in our elections because political leaders count on us not to, and therefore, make no attempt to work with us within the Canadian system.
No. As self-determining nations we cannot vote in their elections as it undermines our right and pursuit for sovereignty.
A distinct difference between these two perspectives, were that those who said yes, also felt themselves apart of the Canadian system. They are Canadians as well, and therefore felt that voting was their duty and their right. While those who said no, did not identify as Canadians. They did not acknowledge Canada as their country but rather, Turtle Island, on which North America resides.
These are the points of view from an indigenous group who were all but destroyed, but continue to work tirelessly for future generations. Whether it be, yes or no, Indigenous peoples of Canada practice their right to democracy and their right to freedom every single day.