With the Canadian federal election occurring on October 21, it is important to take note of the way different parties are addressing the concerns of Indigenous peoples. Tara Williamson, a researcher and consultant at the Yellowhead Institute – a First Nation-led research centre based at Ryerson University in Toronto – noted that “Indigenous issues are glaringly absent from [the] election campaign.” References to Indigenous issues covered in the recent electoral debates and party platforms were largely focused on pipelines, ignoring key issues such as healthcare equity, adequate child welfare, and the approval of Bill C-262, a motion to harmonize Canadian law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The Liberal Party has consistently disregarded Indigenous communities despite previous campaign promises. On October 4, Justin Trudeau’s government decided to appeal and dismiss the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to compensate First Nations children who were harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system, although previously maintaining that this would not be challenged. The ruling would compensate each child who was removed from their home with $40,000, as well as compensating some parents and grandparents.
Trudeau and his government have also reneged on their promises regarding Canada’s pipeline projects, ignoring concerns about the disastrous effects on numerous First Nations communities whose land will be, and has been, desecrated by these projects. Indigenous communities have continually warned that, besides destroying land and habitats, the proposed pipeline projects would also have an irreparable impact on the salmon population – a crucial source of sustenance for First Nations communities by the Salish Sea. An oil spill is almost inevitable according to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who estimate a 79 to 87 per cent chance of a spill in their waters.
Trudeau and the Liberal party continually violate UNDRIP, which instructs governments to “consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples […] through their own representative institutions.” Besides UNDRIP, the Liberal government’s platform has promised to work toward reconciliation, yet they have actively worked against Indigenous communities and hindered any form of meaningful progress. Trudeau and his Liberal government only seem to prioritize Indigenous communities’ rights to self-determination and “communities granting permission” during the election cycle.
In line with its history of human rights violations, the Conservative Party’s platform, which was issued on October 11, only 10 days before the election, continues to neglect the concerns of Indigenous peoples. The party states that they will “work to remove barriers to prosperity [for Indigenous peoples],” although only in the context of building pipelines, and still these references remain vague and lack concrete action. During the recent debates, leader Andrew Scheer said that he would not be guided by UNDRIP while carrying out his proposed economic plan, many sections of which directly impact Indigenous communities. Leaders of First Nations within Scheer’s home riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle have also expressed distrust in the Conservatives. Vice-Chief of Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations David Pratt expressed that many First Nations leaders are concerned by Scheer’s apathy toward Indigenous issues. During a December 2018 meeting, Scheer was booed by First Nations chiefs for refusing to explain how he would be different from Stephen Harper and telling the chiefs that they needed to “have a little bit of patience” until the Conservative Party platform was released. The platform ultimately does not address Indigenous issues, and includes only a vague promise to “facilitate engagement” with Indigenous communities regarding jobs, climate change, and pipelines.
While the Green Party touts a seemingly progressive platform toward reconciliation, including honouring treaties, respecting UNDRIP, and fully implementing recommendations from the TRC and MMIWG reports, Elizabeth May’s stance against commercial seal hunting shows a serious disregard for Inuit peoples and their livelihoods. May states on her platform that the party “support[s] hunting by Aboriginal peoples and local communities,” but does not consider the fact that the commercial seal industry has been part of many Inuit peoples’ livelihoods for over a century. The Green Party’s “Vision Green” platform, released during the 2019 Nanaimo by-election, also presented a number of inaccuracies in its section on Indigenous issues, using recycled sections of Jim Harris’ 2006 election platform. “These errors, typos, contradictions, and ill-considered proposals make up the Green Party’s policy for Indigenous people,” Robert Jago, a Montreal-based businessperson and member of the Nooksack Tribe and Kwantlen First Nation, wrote in an opinion piece for The Tyee. “It makes you wonder if any Native person has ever seen this policy.”
The NDP promises to invest in access to broadband internet and cell service for rural and remote communities, and to co-develop a National Action Plan for Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, as well as a National Council for Reconciliation to hold the process accountable. However, they have been criticized for their lack of focus on Northern Indigenous populations. Catherine Lafferty, a councillor for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, acknowledged the distrust among Indigenous communities in the voting process as a whole. “[…] the issues that matter to me as an Indigenous northerner,” she wrote, “are obtaining the full right to self-determination, and having the necessary supports for improving the health and wellbeing of my family, my home, and my community.” While Lafferty credited the NDP for its pledge to close the health gap in Indigenous communities, she also argued that it needs to focus more on the North. Additionally, the NDP does not have a concrete plan for moving the Alberta economy away from its dependence on the production of oil – a necessary component of any promises made to Indigenous communities.
It is crucial to centre Indigenous concerns when voting on Election Day. We must demand real, concrete, and resolute action regarding these issues, as well as numerous other legacies of Canadian colonialism. We must respect the hesitation to vote felt by some Indigenous peoples, which stems from constant disregard for their voices and activism. As settlers, we must include, uphold, and centre Indigenous peoples and voices when voting and continue to pressure the elected government.