Colonization or Representation? And Other Things I Ask Myself as an Indigenous Voter
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
(Family photo from 2019 vote and 2021 vote)
Voting and Indigenous people go together like moose nose and peanut butter… they don’t. At least, they haven’t historically. Most status Indians were unable to vote until 1960 in Canada without losing their status or treaty rights due to the 1876 Indian Act legislated by the Government of Canada. Even then, some Provincial governments excluded Indigenous people from voting provincially, including Alberta, where status Indians were not granted the right to vote in provincial elections until January 1st, 1965.
With a history of oppression, intergenerational injustice, and systemic silencing legislated, adjudicated, and promoted by the Government of Canada, the right to vote and Indigenous people have had a complex relationship. A relationship that has seen limited participation by Indigenous people in the electoral system, both as voters and representatives.
Aside from asking Indigenous people to vote "in a governing system premised on their ongoing oppression," as Pam Palmater so aptly put, the barriers to access for Indigenous voters also pose ongoing issues. The distance to polling stations in Northern communities, language barriers, and proof of standard civic addresses all play a part in why Indigenous people, on average, participate in federal elections less than other Canadians.
And while these statistics tell a story of a community, it’s also personal.
As an Indigenous woman myself, I know the ramifications of the political system acutely. When you are Indigenous, you need not find politics. It will always find you. From the second you enter the world, your existence is political. Status cards, band membership, pipelines, and more. So little of life is left untouched by the government overseers when you are lucky enough to be born Indigenous. There’s an entire Act dedicated to you even (but we’ll get into that later this year).
This type of politics is felt in the everyday. It’s not abstract numbers balanced on an invisible scale or legal jargon discussed in board rooms in far removed towers. It’s the clean water for your community, the reinstatement of your grandmother to her home, a child tea dancing in the arbor. It’s the politics of community care.
Politics of the every day are the reason I walked my two young girls into the voting booth this week. As they watched me walk through the process of voting I reminded them of the power it held. We talked about what it meant to have both rights and responsibilities. Not just to ourselves, and our family, but also to our community.
It was only 60 years ago that my grandmother would have been turned away from this space. It was in my lifetime that she saw the first federal MP that looked like her. She didn’t live to see the first Indigenous Governor-General, Mary Simon, appointed only months ago. These are all stark reminders of decades of decisions made without people who looked like me and my kin at the table.
And then I thought of the decisions yet to be made.
Because when I ask myself if voting is an act of colonization or representation, it is clear to me that it is both. Both a right conferred by a colonial institution, but also representation reclaimed by a people who have always been leaders.
As 77 people from First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities broke records as candidates in this election, I see a rising, and a glimmer of light on the path to reconciliation. Former National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in 2019, “you better listen to us. You better focus on our issues because we’re voting now.”
And vote I did. To show my children that voting can be an act of love and resistance. To ensure that the table never again sits empty of Indigenous representation. And for my community, so that our everyday politics become the government’s everyday politics.
So as we look towards the future, I give my one vote for community care and take one step towards reconciliation with faith that we are all doing the same. Regardless of how or if we voted.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliACTION YEG
 Indian Act (February 2006), online: Canadian Encyclopedia:
 Indigenous Suffrage, online: Canadian Encyclopedia: <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timeline/indigenous-suffrage>.
 The Irony of the First Nations Vote (October 2019), online: Maclean’s: <https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/the-irony-of-the-first-nations-vote/>.
 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Electors, online: Elections Canada: <https://inspirerlademocratie-inspiredemocracy.ca/learn/indig/index-eng.asp>
 “Indigenous Voters and the 2019 Election”(February 2018), online: Policy Options <https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/february-2018/indigenous-voters-and-the-2019-election/>