First Peoples Vote can move issues higher on Canada’s agenda

NIPISSING FIRST NATION (September 17, 2008) – First Nations could have a greater impact in the upcoming general election than ever before, says Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief John Beaucage.

In re-introducing a previous initiative to encourage First Nations, Métis and Inuit participation in the Oct. 14 federal poll, Beaucage sensed a potential breakthrough opportunity for First Peoples to get their issues moved to a higher priority on Canada’s political agenda.

“A day doesn’t go by that there isn’t a national news report or a legislative debate dealing with our concerns – a land claim being settled, a treaty right taken to the courts, a First Nation challenging the rights of corporations to unilaterally harvest resources from their traditional territories,”‘ said Beaucage. “We’re definitely on the agenda…and we are seeing political parties making our issues an essential part of their platforms.”

Beaucage said the First Peoples Vote campaign –  first unveiled by Anishinabek Nation leadership in the October 2007 Ontario election – encourages an estimated 100,000 eligible First Nation, Métis and Inuit voters in the province to  make their voices heard before the federal election, as well as cast their ballots strategically on Oct. 14.

“We are at a place where First Nations can be incredibly influential, not only with regard to the political agenda, but to the outcome of the election,” said the Grand Council Chief, estimating that voters from the 42 Anishinabek Nation communities he represents could be a significant factor in at least seven Ontario federal ridings. “There is no question that those candidates need our votes in order to win.”

He estimates that First Peoples represent a significant balance of power in 60 federal ridings across Canada where they account for more than 5 per cent of eligible voters. Ten of those “swing-vote’ ridings are in Ontario, including Parry Sound-Muskoka, where the margin of victory in the 2006 federal election was two dozen votes in a riding in which there are over 900 eligible First Nations voters.  First Peoples votes are similarly crucial to candidates seeking election Oct. 14 in Thunder Bay-Superior North, Simcoe North, Peterborough, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, Nickel Belt and Sault Ste. Marie.

First Peoples Vote and firstpeoplesvote.com were created as a non-partisan initiative that encourages First Peoples (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) participation in general elections, provides information to voters on issues that are important to First Peoples’ governments, provides information from the mainstream political parties, provides resources to communities and provides an online discussion forum to exchange opinions and ideas.

In addition, questionnaires will be sent out to the political parties and relevant research of party platforms will be added the firstpeoplesvote.com website.

“There have been many reasons for First Peoples to ignore elections and exercise their right not to vote in the general election,’ said Beaucage. “ Some citizens have not participated because of historical grievances, victimization through the residential school system, historical inequity in the treaties, racism and government disregard of First Nations issues and needs.”

“But our ancestors fought long and hard to earn our right to vote alongside all other Canadians,” he noted. “I believe we pay tribute to those who fought on foreign soil under Canada’s flag to exercise our right to vote by participating in general elections.  Given our strength in numbers, our voices can no longer be ignored at the polls.”

The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.

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For more information:

Bob Goulais
Executive Assistant to the Grand Council Chief
Cell: (705) 498-5250
E-mail: goubob@anishinabek.ca                               

Marci Becking
Communications Officer
Phone: (705) 497-9127
E-mail: becmar@anishinabek.ca

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