Toronto Star
Wednesday, November 8, 2000

I’m not voting in this federal election. 

Both the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance scare me. And on a more profound philosophical level, I think that I, as a young aboriginal person, would be undermining my future and myself by participating in a political system that oppresses aboriginal people. 

After volunteering for almost a month in Esgenoipetitj, the community more commonly known as Burnt Church, this fall, I lost a lot of respect for the Liberal government and their tactics. Firstly, I don’t know whether the Liberal government was honest about a few minor things, which makes me wonder if it was honest about the major things. According to the Mi’kmaq of Esgenoipetitj, federal fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal never set foot on their reserve, although he claims to have visited twice only to be turned away by community leaders. Call me naive, but that’s a major discrepancy. 

Secondly, when the Mi’kmaq attempted to orchestrate an independent audited count of lobster traps in Zone 23 of Miramichi Bay, the federal fisheries department began seizing traps, again, destroying any hope of finding out how many traps the Mi’kmaq truly had and whether those traps were a real threat to conservation. Thirdly, when the fisheries department clamps down on all harvesting activity by the Mi’kmaq, whether it be lobster or salmon, they’re violating the Mi’kmaq treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood. 

This last fact, or call it my interpretation of the facts, goes against the Liberal party’s claim that it supports aboriginal self-government as defined in the Constitution. Under section 35 of the Constitution, “all existing aboriginal and treaty rights” are protected. But it seems to me, the Liberal party violates these rights rather than protecting them. 

Now a word or two about the Canadian Alliance – its members just don’t get it. According to statements by leader Stockwell Day and information I’ve read the Canadian Alliance’s Declaration of Policy, aboriginal rights are little more than race-based privileges. ” . . . We will not support race-based allocation of harvest rights to natural resources,” the policy document says. 

Race-based? Try treaty-based harvest rights, and let’s nip this idea of aboriginal people as a special interest group based on race, an idea too- often bandied about in public debate without considering its origin. 

The concept of Indian as a race is based on government legislation passed by Upper and Lower Canada in 1850 to protect the shrinking land base of aboriginal people due to the encroachment of settlers. Initially, anybody of Indian blood or anybody married to a person of Indian blood would be considered an Indian, which, at the time, suited the aboriginal leadership. 

However, the government unilaterally excluded non-aboriginal men married to aboriginal women from being considered Indian a year later, and over time, managing who was and wasn’t a member of the “Indian race” became a bureaucratic and legal nightmare for aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike. It’s a legacy that haunts us still. Therefore, I don’t understand the logic of the Canadian Alliance’s position on aboriginal affairs because they’re attacking us by perpetuating the status quo, which we never really had a hand in creating. Ultimately, they’d like us to be assimilated, and assimilation is what’s brought more than a century of misery to the lives of aboriginal people. See? They just don’t get it. 

The last reason I’ve decided not to vote – the philosophical one – is shared by many aboriginal people and argued eloquently by my friend, the Mohawk writer Taiaiake Alfred. He believes that if we participate in the perpetuation of the colonizing Canadian state by voting or running for office, then we’re allowing ourselves to be co-opted by it. Co-optation is an euphemism for selling out. If we vote, we’re conceding that the Canadian state has power over us, thus nullifying, in principle, our claim that the state must deal with us on a nation-to-nation basis. 

So you see, my informed choice is no choice. I’m not voting in this federal election because I’ve no faith in either party that will form the next Canadian government (and I won’t sell myself out for an act of faithlessness), and voting for an oppressive regime undermines my belief that aboriginal people constitute a number of self-determining nations, which, unfortunately, have yet to be fully recognized and respected by Canada. 

You can judge my choice as you wish, but at least you know I judged my choice carefully, and I hope you’ll do the same with yours on Nov. 27. 

Alison Blackduck is a Dogrib writer currently studying at Concordia University in Montreal. She can be reached at blackduck@hotmail.com