Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass column

The 2015 Federal Election was such an exciting time!  For what I consider to be a “first” in the books, we witnessed a whole lot more than just your conventional door-to-door knocking campaigns and the handing out of pamphlets.  Across this land, there seemed to be an all-out battle between the parties for votes, with a whole flood of action unfolding on social media in the weeks leading up to the election.

Everybody had their own reasons for voting in general.  And everybody had their reasons for voting for a particular party.  Right up until the early evening of October 19th though, I saw many posts on Facebook from various people asking for tips on what party would be the best to vote for.  For me, it was a simple decision.  As far as politics go, I have always considered myself to be more of a liberal thinker; every human being is created equal and has the right to exercise and enjoy their rights, whatever they may be, free of any judgment or unjust persecution.  Couple this with the fact that a fellow female First Nation lawyer was the Liberal candidate in my riding and my vote was earmarked.  I even voted in the advance polls!  Yes, I can be such a nerd at times.

Going back to this liberal thinking of mine, though, as a First Nation citizen, there has always been one exception to this and that is in relation to the recognition and implementation of First Nation inherent and treaty rights.  That is to say, we may be created equal but we are not to be treated as equals per se, at least, not at the expense of our inherent and treaty rights.

There is a special relationship that is to exist between the First Peoples of this land and the federal government.  We have always maintained this, the Supreme Court has validated this and contrary to what some may think or want to believe, this will never go away.  We won’t let it and if the results of this recent federal election spoke to anything, it was that the majority of voters were not prepared to buy another four years of what the former Prime Minister was selling.

This very much so included what was termed “the indigenous vote”, and I certainly hope that awareness and interest from our First Nation communities continues to grow and evolve in the years to come, especially when we consider the growing and aging population of our First Nation youth.  Voter turnout in our communities can only get better!

So what does this all mean now?  Sure, we have a new order of government with the Liberals as the majority, but where do we go from here?  With respect to First Nation people in particular, what does “a return to a nation-to-nation relationship” entail?  These are just a few questions that I have pondered since the Liberal win and although Prime Minister Trudeau’s take on this relationship has yet to be outlined in detail, I am hopeful that the 10 newly elected Indigenous MP’s will have some input and influence in this regard.

Regardless of what it means to him and the Liberals, though, we still have our own First Nation leadership and we have to let them know what “nation-to-nation” means to us.  They have the responsibility of putting the voice of their collective forward so no matter which way you look at it, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Although there is some uncertainty moving forward, I like to think that is it rather telling when an issue such as murdered and missing indigenous women is back on the table being discussed and has been identified as a priority for this new government.  Further to this, there is the recent Federal Court ruling that favoured the position of First Nations who opposed the legality of The First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

When you have the Federal Court scolding the former government for their failure to consult with First Nations before unilaterally attempting to make this piece of legislation a “go”, it’s a sign; a sign that the tides are changing.  And although he supported it, I certainly hope that Trudeau and his crew go through Bill C-51 and other pieces of unilaterally made legislation with a fine tooth comb and either consult and amend to accommodate or throw them into the repeal bucket.

The morning after the win, I was driving to work and it was raining.  It was a little too early for the sun to be out, but you could see the clear sky off into the horizon.  I couldn’t help but smile and think of it as a cleansing.  I took a deep breath and for the first time in a long time, I felt hope; hope that there are better things to come for everyone.  Don’t disappoint me, Justin.

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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