Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass column

I must admit, there was a time when I could not care less about who was a part of the federal government or even the provincial government; the only thing I cared about was my own First Nation and who was being elected to take care of the members of my own home community, myself included.  My, oh my, how things have changed…

It was in 2002 when I really started to pay close attention to the role of politics in the world, and it took living in a completely different country to open both my eyes and my mind.

I was living in Seoul, South Korea for approximately two months and in December of that year, Roh Moo-Hyun of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party defeated Lee Hoi-Chang of the Grand National Party by just over half a million votes.

Although I do not recall many of the specifics, I do remember the spirit and enthusiasm of my Korean colleagues and friends!  I remember thinking to myself, ‘I should feel this way about where I come from!’  That experience definitely ignited a fire.  It was then that I started to take an active interest in what was going on beyond the boundaries of my First Nation.  There was a bigger picture to contemplate.

Working in the First Nation civil service only made voting more apparent when faced with provincial and federal funding rules, regime and regulation.  With so much external control and power being exerted over various programs, services and ultimately, dollars, I had to think, ‘Don’t we, as First Nation people have a say as to who gets to exert this power and control?’  In my opinion, we most certainly do and that is why it is so important for First Nation people to influence and create positive change wherever and whenever possible.

A lot has happened since the time I spent in Korea.  Without ever forgetting where I come from, I have earned taxable income, I have become a home owner, I pay municipal taxes and now, I have a family.  That ‘should’ that I once thought in relation to world politics has now become a ‘need’; that’s right, I need to feel spirited and enthusiastic about where I come from!  If not for myself, then I need to start thinking about my family’s future and this includes putting a great deal of thought into which political party I intend on supporting in the upcoming federal election.

Before I actually cast my ballot, though, I need to ensure that I am eligible to vote and for many of us First Nation people, this begins with having proper identification which reflects our fixed address.  This is critical now, as the rules have changed given the implementation of the Fair Elections Act last year.  It used to be that a second person could vouch for your identity if you did not possess documents which contained a fixed address.  This is no longer the case and as I understand it, vouching will be replaced by attestation.

With attestation, a voter must have at least one piece of government issued photo identification which states his/her fixed address (e.g.: Certificate of Indian Status, provincial driver’s license, etc.).  If there is no fixed address to prove residence, which may be the case for many First Nation voters, then he /she would have to sign an oath and be supported by the oath of a second eligible voter.

According to Elections Canada, a letter from one’s Band stating that the voter has an address on their First Nation would have to accompany the piece of photo identification and only then, would the individual be eligible to vote.

One thing is for certain; the time to act is now because even though legislation dictates that the next federal election is supposed to happen in the fall of 2015, it does not prevent the Governor General of Canada from calling an earlier election upon the advice of the prime minister.  Be aware and be prepared.  One vote may not make a significant difference but many votes may make all the difference in the world.

Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass is a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation.
You can reach Stephanie at (306) 956-6705 or email her at swbrass@jcwblawoffice.com

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