By Judy Bird

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The panel discussion was non-partisan, but candidates were asked to provide literature for prospective voters to help them learn more about the candidates and their party platforms. Information about the riding boundaries and candidates was also posted on the walls. Photo credit: Judy Bird.

The 2015 federal election is a popular topic of conversation for of a lot of First Nation people these days.

“We have many programs that occur, we have an employment centre, we have partnerships with Sask Polytechnic, we have youth programs, seniors programs, and the discussion around the table has been about the federal election. We didn’t hear that four years ago so much, and this time around it’s the favourite topic,” said Erica Beaudin, the urban services manager with Regina Treaty Status Indian Services (RTSIS).

A panel discussion was held October 8 at RTSIS in Regina to help First Nations people with their choice of whether or not to vote.

“The role that our organization plays in this community, we had a responsibility to hold a forum where our community members could be educated and informed on the federal election,” said Beaudin. “We knew that we had to provide opportunity for discussion and debate regarding the Indigenous vote.”

Panel members included Nelson Bird with CTV News, Regina; Del Anaquod, professor at the First Nations University of Canada; Phillip Brass with the Peepeekisis Health Centre, Cadmus Delorme with the First Nations University of Canada, and Elder Vern Bellegarde of Little Black Bear First Nation. Upon his introduction, Anaquod immediately noted a potential conflict of interest in that his sister, Della Anaquod, is a Liberal candidate for a riding that includes Regina.

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Panelists Cadmus Delorme and Vern Bellegarde. Photo credit: Judy Bird.

The panel was asked to answer three questions: Should Indigenous people vote? Does our vote count? and Does strategic voting make sense?

All the panel members were in agreement that Indigenous people should vote, and that their votes count. Some agreed that strategic voting was the way to go, while others on the panel said to vote for the candidate that you support.

“I know there has to be change,” said Bellegarde. “I believe we can make a difference if we get our people out.”

Brass noted that while it is important to build their Indigenous governments to be strong advocates for First Nations interests, those governance institutions are not there yet. “For now, this is our only weapon here,” he said in reference to voting.

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Panelist Phillip Brass answers a question about the importance of voting. Photo credit: Judy Bird.

Delorme noted that strategic voting makes sense, and Anaquod said that because it’s a three-way fight, some ridings will be won with just a few votes, and so voting does count.

Bird shared a memory of talking with his father, Charlie, about not having the right to vote. “He wasn’t allowed many of the freedoms we take for granted today,” Bird said. “I asked him what it was like being oppressed that way, not having a right to vote, and he said it was demeaning.”

RTSIS was also helping first-time voters to register, and about 40 percent of people attending registered to vote. The process is also fast.

“We will still be assisting anyone who comes through the doors right up until the time that we can register,” said Beaudin. “I’m also a commissioner for oaths so I’m able to assist them in verifying their identification. Our ladies are now down to two minutes a person to get registered.”

 

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