Indigenous voters showed up in record numbers in 2015, with several First Nations communities even running out of ballots temporarily.
The result — a record 10 Indigenous MPs elected to the House of Commons –or three per cent of the 338 seats, which is proportional to the number of Indigenous adults who live in Canada.
Most importantly, Canada had a new government that promised for the first time ever, a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations.
“In the end it didn’t change a lot and in the end I’d say there’s no indigenous democracy in Canada,” said Sheila North, former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakamak and a one-time contender for the national chief’s job a the Assembly of First Nations.
“I think increasingly we’re hearing more from grassroots that they don’t feel like they have any power in the end. Politicians and political parties pay attention during election time but when you look at the constitutions of each of the political parties, they don’t make room for Indigenous rights in any of them.”
The Manitoba Metis Federation’s Will Goodon points out Indigenous MPs represent far more than just Indigenous interests or issues.
“They represent their constituencies whether it be St. Boniface or Vancouver Centre,” Goodon said.
“Those people may be Indigenous they will probably push forward the issues they see fit, but they were not elected by us to represent us.”
That’s not the case everywhere.
New Zealand’s Parliament has Maori representation baked-in with seven Maori seats, elected by Maori people.
But, Maori people occupy general seats too – currently 25 per cent of the members of Parliament there are Maori.
“The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples said we need a First Peoples House, “ said Brock Pitawanakwat of the Yellowhead Institute.
“You would have what’s called a consociation, essentially like we have a Senate and a House of Commons, there would also be an Indigenous Parliament and any legislation that would affect Indigenous people would go through there,” he said.
“I think there is a long standing recognition that the current political system does not adequately represent Indigenous peoples and there has been some ideas on how that might change.”
While some of this week’s InFocus panel agreed Justin Trudeau’s promise of a nation-to-nation relationship remains unfulfilled and the honeymoon with this government was short-lived, all feel the momentum from 2015 needs to propel Indigenous engagement in the upcoming Fall election.
“We know how important indigenous voters are across the country and this election I think every vote will matter,” said Madeleine Redfern, a long time political activist who is currently mayor of Iqaluit.
“There’s an opportunity for us as Indigenous people to educate every party on our issues and make sure every candidate to run is aware of our issues and working with Indigenous people, whoever wins.”