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Aboriginal Participation in Federal Elections

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Vancouver, BC

A talking circle on Aboriginal participation in federal elections was held on January 26, 2006, at the Asia Pacific Hall of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver, British Columbia. The target audience was First Nations, Métis and Inuit electors, especially youth. The event, organized by Elections Canada with the assistance of Simon Fraser University, was co-hosted by the university's Public Policy Program. The group of 39 participants allowed for inclusive and open dialogue.

The objective of the talking circle was to create an environment for open dialogue through which Elections Canada could gain insight into why Aboriginal Canadians participate less in the electoral process than non-Aboriginals. The event was organized in a way that enabled Elections Canada to listen to and learn from Aboriginal electors.

The event gave Elections Canada the opportunity to discuss how to increase Aboriginal voter turnout with members of the Aboriginal community and achieve some of its outreach objectives. The information collected will assist Elections Canada in reaching out more effectively to Aboriginal Canadians.

Panellists included:

  • Dr. Lisa Sterling, Special Advisor for Aboriginal Affairs, Simon Fraser University
  • Dr. Saida Rasul, Chair, Simon Fraser University Board of Governors
  • Mr. Chris Corrigan, Facilitator
  • Mr. Harry Neufeld, Chief Electoral Officer, Elections BC 

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation Elder Dr. Bob George offered an opening prayer.

Emerging Themes

The panellists discussed a number of areas, six of which emerged as overarching themes. The need for change in Canadian society is paramount with respect to Aboriginal peoples. For some participation is strategic: they believe that change is brought about from within the existing political system. Others perceive the federal electoral process as foreign, differing in structure and style from their own band governance system. They do not see any benefit in participating in the federal system. Participants also pointed to the difficulty of having effective Aboriginal representation in the federal government when Aboriginal peoples constitute only 3% of the population and are dispersed throughout the country.

Most agreed on the need for non-Aboriginals to recognize true history, particularly with respect to imperialism and residential schools, and to consider Aboriginal peoples' distrust of government and of the Indian Act. Some participants referred to the conflict of being both an indigenous person and a Canadian citizen. Others discussed the lack of adequate information about the electoral process and stressed the need to include Aboriginal youth in information initiatives in order to increase their involvement. Participants also said that life on the reserve was often an isolated existence. Furthermore, while post-secondary education opens up opportunities for participating in the political process, accessing that education can be difficult.

Participants expressed their gratitude for being given the opportunity to talk about this issue. They were generally pleased with the topics discussed and encouraged Elections Canada to hold more events of this type in the future.