Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass column

What’s your reason for voting?  If you haven’t asked yourself this question by now, then perhaps it’s time to start giving it some serious consideration.  With Canada’s federal election just weeks away, we, as First Nation people, need to be aware and prepared for our moment to take to the polls and cast our ballot.

I suppose it is equally fair to ask what’s your reason for not voting?  However, in an environment where, seemingly more than ever, First Nation issues are either being minimized or completely ignored, how can anyone sit back and say that they are not going to vote?  Collectively, we have the power to initiate change and in my opinion, this has really become apparent over the last couple of years.

This month’s piece is somewhat of a follow-up to the article I wrote earlier this year for Treaty 4 News, Exercising the Right to Vote.  In that article, my purpose was to draw attention to the process of how one becomes eligible and registered to vote in the 2015 federal election.  I certainly want to reiterate the importance of that in this piece as well.  However, in this piece, I want to focus more on something that, in my opinion, has been virtually non-existent under the current Conservative government: consultation with First Nations.

As a First Nation lawyer, there is nothing that makes me more frustrated and angry than hearing of decisions being made and legislation being passed without the proper engagement of the first inhabitants of this land!  The duty to consult and accommodate First Nations has long been validated through the Supreme Court of Canada, so it was quite appalling to learn of the Conservative government’s omnibus bill, “Bill C-38”, in 2012.  Under the mask of what was referred to as a Budget Implementation Act, the bill had the effect of amending a number of different pieces of legislation, many of which were not even financial in nature, without people really knowing about it and more importantly, without knowing the true effects.  So when it generated the controversy it did, it was not without good reason.

Many of the amendments were in relation to environmental legislation and in my opinion, were a direct violation of the duty to consult and accommodate, as they had the potential to affect the rights of aboriginal people.  This caught the attention of others and among First Nations, it specifically ignited the Idle No More movement.

According to its website, “Idle No More seeks to assert Indigenous inherent rights to sovereignty and reinstitute traditional laws and Nation to Nation Treaties by protecting the lands and waters from corporate destruction.”

Despite the various commentary on the movement, inclusive of where it stands today, I believe that it was most important for the following reason:

It functioned to give the federal government a good shake and let them know that the First Nation voice is not one to be silenced anymore.  It proved that First Nations can be mobilized to take action in response to issues that truly have the potential to affect our communities, our livelihoods and our future.  Isn’t this what living in a democracy is supposed to be about?

Bill C-38 is just one example of what we have seen under this administration.  Since then, we have been witness to the passing of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, the implementation of funding cuts to many aboriginal organizations and institutions, the deflection of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and most recently, the passing of Bill C-51.

Not to mention their own budget scandal involving the Harper government appointments to the Senate!  I don’t know about you, but I’m not about sit back and enjoy another four years of this government in power if there is something I can do to prevent it (insert sarcasm where fit)!

With that being said, I strongly encourage you to have a look at all of the political parties out there and hear what they have to say in their platforms that could be of benefit to First Nations.  The days of thinking and believing that what goes on in the federal government doesn’t affect us are over.  To remain silent is to simply endorse the current state of affairs.

Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass is a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. You can reach Stephanie at Sunchild Law, her email address is: stephanie@sunchildlaw.com

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