Opinion – Demand for “strategic” Indigenous vote a violation

Election Coverage on NetNewsLedger.com - Canada Parliament Building at sunrise. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Election Coverage on NetNewsLedger.com - Canada Parliament Building at sunrise. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

In the Anishinaabe language, the word for truth is debwewiwin.

It comes from ode (pronounced O-DAY), meaning heart.

To us, truth comes from the heart. Whether it be in the words you speak, decisions you make or actions you take — truth exists in what one knows to be right.

Truth is something one learns through balancing spiritual, mental, physical and emotional experiences. This is why truth is innately personal but also communal; gained through the interaction with others.

Truth for Anishinaabe is uncovered through relationships and found best through actions such as respect, love, bravery, wisdom, kindness, and humility. These are principles we strive to embody in our ceremonies, politics, and why we define ourselves as the “good people.”

Anishinaabeg aren’t perfect, of course. But, considering this understanding of truth is embodied in our language and carried us for thousands of years, it hasn’t led us astray yet.

This is why asking Indigenous peoples to vote “strategically” is violent.

Indigenous voters are being warned — even by Indigenous leaders — that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would return us to the “Harper years,” and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would not.

It makes sense. In 2015, Indigenous voters came out in record numbers against Tory leader Stephen Harper. What they got was the “progressive” Trudeau, who promised: “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples.”

How things have changed.

The 2019 federal election campaign was supposed to herald in a new wave of ideas on Canada’s historically dysfunctional relationship with Indigenous nations. With more Indigenous candidates and voters participating than ever before, parties were supposed to respond with innovative policies and appeal to Canadians who know things need to change.

The response has been underwhelming. Not only have “Indigenous issues” lost the attention of federal leaders but some have repeated stereotypical attitudes and threatened to repeat devastating legacies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Liberal and Conservative platforms. They use differing language when it comes to Indigenous peoples, but both contain policies that will produce the same cycles of draconian federal control, fatalistic poverty, and ornamental change.

Undoubtedly, Scheer’s Conservatives would be brutal — evidenced by his refusal to adopt the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But, while Trudeau makes big promises, it’s impossible to forget he has not hesitated to allow officials to arrest Indigenous peoples protecting their lands, continued the Harper government’s aggressive theft of Indigenous resources and bought an oil pipeline to do it.

In an excellent analysis for Canadian Dimension magazine, Mi’kmaq scholar Pam Palmater writes: “What is most concerning are all the ways in which the platforms of Trudeau and Scheer overlap.”

The two leaders are asked about reconciliation, and they respond with promises to fix boil-water advisories and share oil and gas profits with First Nations, if they only stop protesting. Treating Indigenous peoples like human beings, Indigenous lands like Canada’s ATM, and arresting any resistance is not reconciliation.

The NDP and Green party have aggressive policy platforms that promise significant and revolutionary change, but it’s easy to promise big when you will not form government.

Both have made commitments to follow the UN directive, honour Indigenous rights and treaties, and address emergency situations in Indigenous communities. Both promise to engage tangible principles of consultation and consent in land and resource projects. Both commit to Indigenous perspectives on climate change.

They fail though to describe how lands and resources will be shared fairly, what a balanced relationship between Canadian and Indigenous governments looks like, and contain major oversights on how to replace the Indian Act and stop the genocide of Indigenous women and girls. Still, they are more “progressive” than the Liberals and Conservatives combined.

For Indigenous peoples, choosing Scheer or Trudeau is like choosing which weapon to take to a fight: either way you’re going to get hurt.

Some Indigenous peoples want to vote for the Liberals and Tories, and that’s fine. But it’s inappropriate — and downright violent — to tell Indigenous peoples they only have two choices.

Threatening one bad party platform and its history over another is to employ fear and intimidation. Saying one party includes a few Indigenous peoples here and there is not including “some” Indigenous perspectives (especially when one throws them out for acting Indigenous). Citing nice language, a bunch of selfies, and promises of change when more of the same will come are not reasons to support a party — they are lies.

For 150 years, Canada’s two natural governing parties have pursed one end: to dominate, control, and force Indigenous nations to accept a dysfunctional relationship.

Evidenced by this federal election campaign, it will be more of the same.

Asking Indigenous peoples to vote “strategically” — when they believe another party fulfills their values — is asking them to give up who they are and what they know is right.

It’s asking them to give up their truth.

Niigaan Sinclair
Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on October 19, 2019. Republished with the permission of the author

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