Monday, May 2, 2011

We laughed

I knew all along I was going to vote.

Since turning 18 I've voted in two federal elections, making this my third.

I understand that there are two camps of First Nations thinking when it comes to voting in Canadian federal elections: pro-vote vs. anti-vote.

But after reading Martha Troian's post at Media Indigena, which contains an interview with Taiaiake Alfred, a highly respected Mohawk scholar (at least in my purview), on why Indigenous nations shouldn't vote, and after seeing well made videos espousing why we should vote, I am left with more questions than answers.

Is it possible to change a colonial institution from the inside?

Does it mean that "I am Canadian" if I vote in a federal election?

Would not voting improve anything for our people?

If I don't vote, what should I do instead to be heard by the country that, for better or worse, currently makes decisions that affect me as an Anishinabekwe?

On a theoretical plane, I totally understand the many reasons not to vote. If we want to be in a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada, we should not vote for their leader. Their leader should neither represent us nor make any of our decisions. But regardless of the fact that I've never really considered the Prime Minister to represent me, that he makes fiscal and ideological decisions that affect me is an inescapable fact.

What's more, a part of me wants to ignore the vote simply out of spite. Did you know that First Nations (or "Status Indians") were the last racialized group to "receive the right" to vote (that's my sarcastic tone, FYI) in Canada? We "got" the vote in 1960.

In 2010 I was working at a national Aboriginal organization. I was sitting at my desk one day, when my director--cheerful, intelligent, feisty, and non-Native--popped her head into my office and requested a mini-meeting. The six of us "subordinates" dragged our chairs into her large office, not knowing what to expect, but accustomed to these mini-meetings.

"So this year, our organization is being invited to speak in parliament to celebrate 50 years since the First Nations right to vote," she says, slightly upbeat, but not overly excited. "Does anyone have ideas for speaking points?"

We asked about some of the details of the event, brainstormed a few points, then one of my co-workers, blunt and hilarious, spoke up.

"Can I make a request?" she asked, and everyone knew there was no denying her. "Can we not celebrate the fact that the colonial institution which denied us the vote finally 'granted' it in the '60s?" (Okay, so maybe those weren't her exact words--hers were actually much more poignant.)

And the room roared with laughter. It's so true!

Many Canadians don't know that First Nations couldn't vote until 1960 without giving up their identity as Native peoples. Instead, they read headlines like 'Elections Canada marks 50 years of voting rights for all First Nations members', and think this is a reason for First Nations and Canadians to jump for joy.

I hate to break it to you, Canada: it's not.

- - -

I am writing the second half of this post on May 3rd, 2011. I have an emotional, electoral hangover.

Quebec amazed the country by completely reversing power within left wing. Both of my ridings (and yes, I have two) saw huge gains for the NDP. Back home in my community, Kitigan Zibi, a relative unknown karate teacher ousted the former Foreign Affairs Minister; and in my current residence across from the Odawa River, the NDP broke through the 100+ year Liberal stronghold. But, of course, it's difficult to celebrate these victories when many First Nations' worst nightmare has come to light.

So, what can I do to keep myself from falling into a deep, dark place, worried about the treatment of my people by the feds over the next four years? Well, my first instinct is to hole up on my couch with a pint of ice cream (forget Skinny Chicks!) and pop in a '30 Rock' DVD. Then the next one. And the one after that...

But then I remember our very Native response to the idea of "celebrating" our right to vote.

We laughed.

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