Indigenous voters broke records in the 2015 election. Will they do it again?
TORONTO -- Last election saw an unprecedented turnout in Indigenous voters, many of them intent on voting out Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. On some reserves, polling stations were so swamped that they ran out of ballots.
Turnout for registered voters on reserves was 61.5 per cent in 2015, a 14 per cent jump from 2011 and the highest turnout since tracking began in 2004.
This election, whether or not Indigenous voters will show up in similar numbers -- and whether they’ll rally around a particular party – is yet to be seen. But Indigenous leaders say that the parties shouldn’t bank on a unified vote.
Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, responded Friday to comments made by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during Thursday’s leadership debate that Indigenous groups shouldn’t be allowed to hold natural resources projects “hostage.”
“Great to see leaders debate First Nations issues,” Bellegarde tweeted. “One problem. #FirstNations are rights and title holders and more than a ‘group of people.’”
Bellegarde also called out the Conservative Party’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an international agreement designed as a means of protection for Indigenous groups worldwide.
Issues such as improved health care, housing and access to clean drinking water were central to Indigenous voters in 2015. These days, those concerns are still top of mind, according to Grand Chief Garrison Settee of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.
“As we approach the next federal election those issues are still paramount to Indigenous people,” Settee told CTV News.
The Liberal government made good on many of its 2015 promises to Indigenous voters. The number of First Nations communities under long-term drinking water advisories has been reduced by 87, and efforts are underway to improve health services in isolated communities.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals also lived up to their promise to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In June, the Liberals promised $13 million to fund more than 100 projects to “honour the lives and legacies” of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Other issues remain on the table this election, including child welfare and the environment. Candidates should also be prepared to discuss treaty rights, which Settee said have been “forgotten.”
“They need to zero in on treaty rights. Our treaty rights have been breached,” he said.
According to Statistics Canada, about 1.4 million Canadians are of Indigenous descent.