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Mapping the Legal Consciousness of First Nations Voters: Understanding Voting Rights Mobilization

The Citizen Plus Voter

From a different perspective, the right to vote for Indians may not mean a denial of the equal status of persons from First Nations communities, but rather an affirmation of the special status of those persons.Footnote 36 The idea of citizen plus expresses the view that Indians can enjoy the right to vote and other rights of Canadian citizenship as a complement to their distinctive identity and special status as Canada's First Nations. Exercising the right to vote does not give particular substance to that special status but merely serves to reinforce the view that being ascribed the right to vote does not threaten a person's identity as an Indian. It is therefore the polar opposite perspective of the enfranchised voter.

Electoral participation in this form of legal consciousness has a positive, status-enhancing element for the First Nations voter. Voting is a meaningful way for First Nations in their relationship to the federal government to ground their claim as a national group with special status within the Canadian state. Exercising the right to vote does entail taking on a particular identity for the individual, but in this case the identity is one that allows that individual to enjoy both membership in a First Nations community and the Canadian community.

The logic of this mode of legal consciousness is that it encourages electoral participation rather than abstention. Whereas for the enfranchised Indian voter there is a strong case not to vote, for individuals from First Nations communities with the citizen plus mode of legal consciousness there is a compelling case to participate in federal elections.

Footnote 36 For theoretical accounts of how equal status is consistent with special status, see Lesley A. Jacobs, Pursuing Equal Opportunities; Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community, and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).