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OPINION | How one Dene northerner is deciding how to vote

Catherine Lafferty breaks down her views on the major parties’ platforms when it comes to Indigenous issues.

Catherine Lafferty is an Indigenous northerner and a councillor for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. She encourages Indigenous people to get out and vote in the Oct. 21 federal election. (Submitted by Catherine Lafferty)

It’s no wonder there is distrust amongst Indigenous communities when it comes to placing their confidence in Canadian politics.

Under Canadian Law, Indigenous peoples across Canada were largely prohibited from voting up until the 1960s. Low voter turnout from Indigenous communities in past federal elections is partly due to a lack of trust in the Canadian government.

Indigenous nations already have their own internal governance systems in place, often operating under their own laws that have existed since time immemorial. 

Yet, as an Indigenous northerner, I feel that it is important to vote because the North is often left out of the conversation, and issues that Indigenous northerners face are not well understood amongst leaders in Parliament. 

There are many promises coming out of each party’s platforms, but the issues that matter to me as an Indigenous northerner 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.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Along with addressing climate change and moving toward a green economy, the party is promising an increase in mental heath and addictions services, which Catherine Lafferty says is vital in the North. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Green Party is promising a lot. Along with addressing climate change and moving toward a green economy, it’s promising free university and college tuition and an increase in mental heath and addictions services, which is vital in the North where young people are dying by suicide at alarming rates.

The Green Party is also promising to implement the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (though last time I checked it was already supposed to be made mandatory across the nation.) 

I do not hear any of the parties, other than the Green Party, discussing the need to seriously look at the creation of new and innovative job sectors, aside from oil and gas.

Jobs matter. But wouldn’t it be great if Canadians were employed in careers that were not destroying nature? A new technological revolution is knocking on the door and we need to answer.

In the North there is vast land that can be used for testing out alternative solutions to oil and gas, like wind, solar and thermal power, which could not only reduce pollution but also provide for building new infrastructure and transportation systems. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is promising to close the health gap in Indigenous communities. Lafferty says there needs to be more focus on the North in this respect. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

I give the NDP credit for its promise to close the health gap in Indigenous communities, but there needs to be more focus on the North in this respect.

Affording necessary health care, including dental care, in impoverished communities is nearly impossible. There are no full-time doctors or dentists in many northern communities, which is partly why many northern Indigenous children are suffering from tooth decay. Poor diets due to poverty also attribute to this and leads to a whole other range of health problems.

The NDP has also promised to deliver high-speed rural broadband to all communities: this is essential for providing an information corridor for northerners.

Indigenous students in the North do not receive an education equal to the rest of Canada, access to online education might be the key to changing that. The inability to connect to the internet because one is not able to afford it is pure elitism.

This seems to be what the NDP’s platform is all about, eliminating restrictions to participating fully in society and ensuring that everyone is on a level playing field.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Lafferty says she cannot relate to the Conservative Party. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Driven by power and money, I can’t relate to Conservative initiatives. The Conservatives speak only in dollar signs.

They have not yet made public their promises when it comes to Indigenous issues, therefore I cannot provide an accurate analysis on the Conservative Party.

I can say that, readjusting program spending without tackling larger issues, like the health of our country’s land and water, is not congruent to the betterment of the whole, only serving a small portion of the population. 

Lafferty says she questioned Justin Trudeau’s credibility after the SNC Lavalin affair with former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Although Justin Trudeau’s decriminalization of marijuana is his claim to fame, the industry has not shown to be profitable for First Nations governments, who say they are not allowed to sell marijuana for profit.

One of the only major breakthroughs worthy of mention is that the Liberals waived about $1 billion in loans that First Nation governments were billed for negotiating dragged out treaty claims with the federal government. 

Some feel that Trudeau had a chance to prove himself and has failed. Most notably to me as an Indigenous woman, Trudeau abandoning minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman in a rare position of power in Canadian politics, made me really question his credibility. 

Now, with his recent announcement that he would challenge the compensation of First Nations children harmed in the child welfare system, he might have finally lost all confidence in Indigenous voters. 

In the end, voters unfortunately have to vote for just one party. 

As an Indigenous person, I don’t believe in hierarchical structures of government and there is not one party that has sold me on their promises, which makes it difficult to want to vote at all. 

If one leader were able to exemplify all of the pros listed here then it would be no contest, but as it stands commitments are spread thin, and at the end of the day I am still undecided.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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