Beyond “to vote or not to vote”.

It often comes as a surprise to many that Indigenous people in Canada tend not to identify as Canadian. What then do they identify as, you might ask? In general, Indigenous people identify themselves according to their nation: Cree, Mohawk, Dene, Métis, Anishinaabe, Inuit and so on. As peoples who have been given many names by outsiders as well as having names for ourselves in our own languages, we have many terms to choose from, but only rarely is “Canadian” among them.

After the question “what do you identify as” invariably comes “why not Canadian”? At the most surface level, the reason for rejecting Canadian as an identifier is based on a strong belief among Indigenous peoples that we never agreed to become Canadian, thus the label is inappropriate. A national identity that has been forcefully and non-consensually imposed on Indigenous peoples, is not to be embraced.

There are of course much deeper reasonings at play here. A rejection of Canadian identity is just one facet of a rejection of Canadian sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands. How this rejection plays out within Indigenous communities varies greatly.

For example, the Haudenosaunee lacrosse team will not travel internationally with Canadian passports, insisting on their sovereign right to travel with Haudenosaunee passports for official events. At times, these passports have been accepted, while at other times they have been refused. Taking a principled stance on this issue has a number of times prevented these lacrosse athletes, among whose nations the very sport originates, from competing in international events. The collective decision to insist that Haudenosaunee, not Canadian, sovereignty applies in this situation is certainly not made lightly. Individual Haudenosaunee may choose to travel internationally with Canadian passports, but this tends to be a matter of convenience (or perhaps better put, state coercion), rather than any sign of acceptance of Canadian sovereignty.

Most Indigenous communities in Canada have not yet exercised their sovereignty to the extent of issuing their own passports, but the rejection of Canadian sovereignty and identity often manifests as a refusal to participate in Canadian elections. This of course is not true for all communities, or all individuals. However, the number of Indigenous people who take a principled stance against participating in Canadian politics is significant. With federal elections looming near this fall, it is important to be aware of these dynamics, and to understand that the reasons behind low Indigenous voter rates go far beyond more commonly understood issues of voter apathy and disillusionment.

Within Indigenous communities (and most particularly online), the conversation rarely moves beyond “to vote or not to vote”, and proponents of both positions can become very passionate. Voting, or even worse, running for political office, is often seen as a betrayal of Indigenous sovereignty. On the other side, refusing to participate in Canadian political processes can be viewed as rejecting an important opportunity to correct the overwhelming lack of representation of Indigenous people within Canadian politics. The conversation is fraught with high emotions, appeals to principle or pragmatism, and to be blunt, things can get very ugly. None of this is made any easier by the often patronizing and unsolicited advice of non-Indigenous commentators who rarely seem aware of the deeper conflicts involved in this debate. I want to stress that this conversation within Indigenous communities is important, and contains much more detail and nuance than I have covered here.

There are many avenues of possible exploration here, including what sovereignty outside of the Canadian state looks like, but this piece is intended to focus attention on a discussion of one side of the debate. Over the next few weeks, hosts of the Twitter account @IndigenousXca will be presenting and exploring the relevance of specific federal party platforms for those Indigenous people who vote, or who are considering voting in this year’s federal election. This article is intended to lay out some ground rules for interaction with @IndigenousXca hosts, taking into account the volatile nature of the issues at play.

The first @IndigenousXca guest host to address specific federal party platforms will take over from tomorrow, July 16th to the 23rd, beginning at 7pm EST. Tanya Lalonde is Cree/Métis from Buffalo Lake, Alberta and the President of the Liberal Party’s Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission of Quebec. She will explore the Liberal party as it relates to Indigenous people.

The next week, we will hear from Aaron Paquette, artist, author, entrepreneur and now politician. Aaron comes from Cree, Metis, Cayuse and Norwegian stock and hails from Edmonton, Alberta where is he seeking the NDP Candidacy in Edmonton-Manning. Edit: July 23, Aaron won the candidacy today and is the official NDP candidate for Edmonton-Manning! (Congrats!)

I am still looking for someone to host the week after Aaron’s in order to explore the Green Party platform. I will not be promoting a Progressive Conservative Party host. That decision is mine, and is not up for discussion. Feel free to find another platform beside this blog, and the @IndigenousXca account to explore CPC relevance to Indigenous people.

As the purpose of these next three weeks on @IndigenousXca is to move beyond the “to vote or not to vote” debate, and because that debate itself can become so passionate, I will be taking a much more active role in the moderation of the Twitter account than usual. To facilitate a productive conversation that is not derailed by personal attacks against the hosts, or which becomes impossibly hung up on the vote/no vote dichotomy, here are the basic guidelines I will be enforcing as the @IndigenousXca admin:

  • Interactions with @IndigenousXca hosts must be respectful. This means no personal attacks. Questioning the political positions, policies, and actions of the federal party each host is representing is fine and encouraged. Those who engage in personal attacks against hosts will be temporarily blocked from the Twitter account for the duration of these discussions. I will personally be making the call to block people, and I am not at all interested in debating whether or not specific behaviours crossed the line or not. Keep it clean, folks. Obviously I cannot enforce respectful interactions with the hosts’ personal twitter accounts, but I am hoping that agreeing to host @IndigenousXca will not result in harassment for anyone.

 

  • It is up to the hosts whether they want to discuss their motivations or beliefs concerning participation in Canadian politics. However, I will give latitude to that discussion on the first day of hosting only, to ensure the bulk of the week focuses on specific federal party issues. If a host does not wish to engage in that discussion during their time, then I will enforce that decision.

 

  • If I post from the @IndigenousXca account, I will preface my tweets with [admin] to make it clear who is tweeting. To avoid cluttering up the account with admin tasks, I may also tweet from my personal account @apihtawikosisan. If that happens I will preface those tweets with [IndigenousXca admin]. Moderation from either of these accounts ‘count’, so please heed them both.

Basically, this is a conversation for people who want to explore federal platforms as they relate to Indigenous people, in the lead up to the federal election. This is not a discussion we often get to have in Indian country this side of the medicine line, so let’s try to make space for it. Those of us who feel strongly about not participating at all in Canadian politics still have plenty of opportunity to give voice to our reasons for that. The @IndigenousXca account will follow up this three party presentation with a week further exploring the “to vote or not to vote” debate itself, so there will absolutely be an opportunity then to have your say on those wider issues.

My thanks in advance for respectful participation in this discussion, and again, you can follow the @IndigenousXca account here!

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