(Attendees listen to candidate pitches at Maskwacis First Nation forum Wednesday. Brandi Morin/APTN photo.)
APTN National News
For the first time in its history an Alberta First Nation is going to take part in a federal election.
The Tsuu T’ina Nation near Calgary established its first ever polling station at the Grey Eagle Resort.
Tsuu T’ina spokesperson Kevin Littlelight said the momentum started to build when they decided to get engaged during the last provincial election.
The motivating factor, he said, was because the previous Progressive Conservative government in Alberta was what he described as not very Aboriginal friendly.
“We could smell change in the air,” said Littlelight. “The provincial election was the biggest turnout of Aboriginal voters ever. The push was for change for Aboriginal people and for Albertans, and we were a part of that change.”
Across Alberta it appears First Nations are becoming more involved than ever and plan to show it on Monday before polls close.
Maskwacis First Nation in central Alberta held its first ever federal candidates open forum at Samson Cree Nation’s Howard Buffalo Memorial Center earlier this week.
Throughout the evening approximately 100 people showed up to listen to pitches from the Liberal and NDP candidates, the Conservative and Green candidates didn’t attend.
Tara Cutarm, one of the event organizers, said she was impressed by the turnout and noticed a significant number of youth in attendance.
“It made me feel hopeful,” said Cutarm. “And grateful seeing the youth be so interested in attending the forum. It gave me pride in the fact that there are youth caring at that young age not only for themselves, but for all of us…I am hoping First Nation’s youth storm the polls and take this country back because it’s their future that’s going to be impacted.”
In Enoch Cree Nation, directly west of Edmonton, elder Irene Morin said they are also working hard to ensure high voter turnout there. Morin said she took the initiative to make arrangements with the nation’s transportation coordinator to use the local school buses to transport voters to the polling station at the local arena and is using a specialized bus for elders. The organizing of transporting community members to vote during an election is also a first for Enoch.
“This time we want to make sure that the voters get out and vote,” said Morin who added that she’s never seen a push like this for Aboriginal engagement in a federal election before.
“I think the main reason is that First Nations want to lend their support to a party other than the Conservatives…I think that’s the feel all over.”
Morin plans to spend most of Monday volunteering at the polling station.
Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin said getting people to polling stations has been a problem in the past. This election has encouraged Ermineskin to be more innovative in finding ways around those kinds of challenges.
Council unanimously agreed for the band to organize rides to and from the polling station with the community’s passenger van to those without transportation. This kind of action to help usher people to the polls is unparalleled.
“If we want to engage them (community members) we need to provide access to transportation,” said Ermineskin. “It’s going to be a busy day for everybody that’s going to be involved and we’re working on the logistics of what that’s going to look like.”
Ermineskin said he’s noticing something stirring in the community in regards to Monday’s election and there’s a sense of urgency being felt to participate in choosing Canada’s leadership.
“I think because talk of our issues are falling on deaf ears,” said Ermineskin who will be encouraging other Maskwacis leadership to rally their members to vote in the coming days. “It’s time we start to rise up and let people know we need to participate.”