Reserves are in a league of their own when it comes to voting.
We are, as a rule, governed at the federal level, but this isn’t to say that our elections are federal. Indigenous people have the power to vote for the elected band council, follow our sovereign democracy as well as vote in the Canadian election.
To get to the meat and potatoes of this article, we can take a look at the rest of Canada for comparison.
For a while now, voter turnout in all Canadian elections has been declining and this is a statistic that causes a great deal of outrage and disappointment among politicians and academics.
Depending on how it is calculated, in a usual federal election, only 45 to 60 per cent of Canadians will bother voting at all, and the numbers are generally far lower in provincial and local races.
This disengagement is difficult to blame on any single cause, but most analysts attribute it to a public that either feels cynical, spiteful about the ability for politicians to effect meaningful change on the issues that matter to them, or that are simply too ill-informed to feel comfortable casting a ballot.
But apparently, efforts were made during the last federal election to get Indigenous people across Canada to “rock the vote.” But this excluded many Haudenosaunee.
According to data from Elections Canada, 1,851 people voted in the 2015 federal election across all of seven Haudenosaunee communities in Canada. That number represents about 6.6 per cent of eligible voters living on-reserve in those communities.
“Stay in your boat and we’ll stay in ours,” as some say, with the view of voting in the Canadian election being a violation of treaty relations established with the Two Row Wampum belt.
Let us not forget that the parallel can be drawn as it was 1960 that “Status Indians” were permitted to vote in Canadian federal elections, but it wasn’t until 1975 that British citizens were barred from voting in Canadian elections.
Canadian election campaigns are generally expensive, big-budget affairs featuring an assortment of pricy gimmicks like television commercials, glossy brochures and rented buses with a giant photo of the leader’s face plastered on the side. This costs a lot of money, and campaign finance rules exist to prevent things from getting too out of hand.
But you will see our campaign runners pushing wire signs into the earth, renting out banners to put at the end of their laneways, and even organizing meet-and-greets.
At the end of the day, a general consensus could be made that elections are nothing more than popularity contests as the more popular you are, the more likely you’ll win.
But what makes a person popular politically?
Put simply, the candidate should be for things that voters like and against things that they dislike. Put openly, the candidate must stand for something that others want to see someone stand for. They are friendly, well-spoken individuals that seem to have the best interest of the common person at heart. For Haudenosaunee people in particular, we know that these qualities have to be amped up by a devotion to the land, the community, its resources, the youth and children and their futures, and the quality of life for everyone, young and old.
These might be the very qualities that set reserve elections apart.