By Grand Chief Gordon Peters
Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians
Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations has confirmed that he will vote in the upcoming federal election. This is a drastic departure from the National Chief’s previous commitment to remain non-partisan and refrain from voting – a commitment made on the advice and guidance of his elders.
There is a long-standing convention of the National Chief’s office to remain non-partisan. The role of the National Chief is to work with all parties in support of First Nations. Regardless of political stripe, the National Chief is responsible for working diplomatically with the government of the day. Partisan attachments will complicate this work and create barriers to advancing our priorities and honouring the Treaties.
In addition to this departure of convention, the National Chief’s choice to vote is a direct affront to many of our Nations that view Canada as a foreign government which they are not citizens of. Canada’s unilateral decision to extend the vote to First Nations in 1960 only served to further colonize our citizens, and separate us from our own National identities.
Canada has a constitutional and legally binding responsibility to First Nations based on Treaties. Treaties affirmed that Indigenous Nations were to coexist with colonial settlers. These agreements were based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference. Treaty responsibilities are not optional, and not to be traded in promise for votes in the federal electoral process.
The onus should not be on citizens of Indigenous Nations to strong arm the Canadian Government at the ballot box to hold up its Treaty responsibilities.
This is a critical moment for First Nations. We need to stop legitimizing the colonial rule over First Nations and instead affirm our national identities and take our rightful place on our homelands.