With the provincial election being less than a week away, and a federal election following about six weeks behind it, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) is looking to increase Indigenous voter turnout in the north.
In a Aug. 29 press release, the political advocacy group that represents 26 Northern Manitoba First Nations revealed that they created a new “Rock the Vote” section of their website, where any one of its 72,000 members can access information about polling stations, election dates and the documentation you need to cast your ballot.
“If you are 18 years old and a resident of Manitoba, you can get involved simply by getting out to a polling station on Sept. 10 and Oct.21,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “If you’ve never voted before, consider making plans with a friend or family member to head to the polling station together to cast your ballots. Voting is a free opportunity to make a difference.”
Elections Canada says that that voter turnout for people living on reserves in the 2015 federal election was 61.5 per cent, a 14-point jump from the previous federal election in 2011. However, this is still lower than the national average of 68.3 per cent or the Manitoba average of 67.9 per cent in 2015.
Settee says apathy and general mistrust of the government are the biggest reasons why Indigenous voters lag behind the country as a whole in terms of participation.
“When you live in First Nations and you see the marginalization of our people and the lack of progress in our communities, some people give up hope,” he said. “But I think that it is important that we be part of this process, because if we are not part of this process it means we cannot voice our opinion either way.”
Indigenous people still represent a significant voice in Northern Manitoba, with the federal Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding containing the highest proportion of First Nations voters in the country.
And being a former high school teacher, Settee said he is also encouraged by how politically engaged the young people of this generation are.
“Young people are more educated and they have the ability to communicate and dialogue with people who are in politics in a way that hasn’t been done before,” he said. “They have political perspective and I think they are able to comprehend a lot of things that are happening on the national front because of technology.”
The grand chief also wanted to reminded MKO members that Indigenous people didn’t always have the right to vote, with this specific voting rights legislation coming into effect on July 1, 1960.
“I take that vote very seriously, because it validates me as a First Nations person who wants to be part of the process,” said Settee.
The provincial election is set to take place Sept. 10, with the Thompson riding featuring four candidates: incumbent Kelly Bindle (Progressive Conservatives), Danielle Adams (NDP), Darla Contois (Liberals) and Meagan Jemmett (Green Party).
Advance voting in Thompson runs until Sept. 5 and takes place at either the City Centre Mall or the local returning office on Selkirk Avenue (next to Moore Specs).
The federal election is on Oct. 21 with five candidates vying to become the next Member of Parliament for the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding: incumbent Niki Ashton (NDP), Cyara Bird (Progressive Conservatives), Ralph McLean (Green Party), Judy Klassen (Liberals) and Ken Klyne (People’s Party).
For more information on these two upcoming elections, please visit the “Rock the Vote” section of MKO’s website.