More Aboriginal people are running in the upcoming Canadian federal election than have ever been elected to Parliament.
Fifty-three Aboriginal people across the country are throwing their hats into the proverbial ring to compete for seats on behalf of the four main parties in the 42nd federal election.
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Since the first Canadian Parliament was formed in 1876, only 34 Aboriginal people have been elected to the House of Commons. All were Métis until almost a century later when Len Marchand Sr. (Liberal) became the first Status Indian to hold a seat in 1968. Peter Ittinuar (NDP) became the first Inuk to do the same in 1979.
The number of Aboriginal candidates representing the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, and Greens has almost doubled since the last federal election in 2011 when 31 Aboriginal candidates in total ran for the same parties.
In 2015, the Conservatives, commanded by incumbent Stephen Harper, lost one Aboriginal candidate, bringing them down from five to four, while the Greens, led by Elizabeth May, maintained the status quo with eight. The Liberals and the NDP, however, have taken another approach altogether.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has increased his party’s arsenal of Aboriginal candidates from eight to 18, while the NDP, under leader Thomas Mulcair, has moved from 10 to 23.
Could it be they are taking the lead of U.S. Democrats who, in 2008 and 2012, went hard after the Native American vote under the direction of Barack Obama? Political analysts predicted at the time that the vote in battleground states with high Native populations could be swung, if Native voters were motivated.
It would stand to reason that the Native population could also make a significant impact in a federal election north of the 49th parallel. Aboriginal people make up approximately 4.3 per cent (1,400,685 people) of Canada’s total population, and almost three-quarters of those people are eligible to vote on Oct. 19.
But will long-time abstinence from the polls and apathy to Canadian politics diminish enough to get Aboriginal voters to the polls? Can a handful of candidates really inspire an entire population? Are First Nations-focussed platform promises finally going to get the largest segment of Aboriginal voters out the door?
The Liberals, the NDP and even the Greens appear to think so — the Conservatives not so much. But what do First Nations, Métis and Inuit people think? No polls have focussed on Aboriginal voters, but if one listens closely, with an ear to the ground, one can hear a rumble not far off, which has the potential to turn into a stampede.
Across the country, Aboriginal people of all ages, from grassroots to leadership, have been working hard to encourage Canada’s First Peoples to exercise their right to vote. From groups such as Indigenous Vote Sask 2015, to Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote, to BC’s First Nations Rock the Vote, to the Assembly of First Nations, the message from within is the same simple refrain: Vote.
It will be a few more weeks before it can be determined whether the message has been well received, and whether Aboriginal people in Canada have turned out in greater numbers than ever before to vote for representatives in Parliament.