Rocking the boat by rocking the vote

Facebook group leading the charge in increasing Indigenous voter turnout


The downward trend of voter turnout across all demographics in Canada is well-documented and is especially true of Indigenous populations. Aboriginal peoples historically have lower voting rates than non-Aboriginals for a variety of reasons, but Sylvia Boudreau’s aim is to change that.

Boudreau, together with artist Jackie Traverse, created the “Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote” Facebook page, with the purpose of encouraging the Aboriginal community to hit the ballot booth for the upcoming civic election.

“Our intent is about bringing out more awareness and trying to encourage the Indigenous population within Winnipeg to get out and vote,” Boudreau, an Aboriginal advisor at Health Sciences Centre, says. 

“We know that historically, in terms of voter turnout, there’s not a lot of participation among the Indigenous community.”

There are multiple reasons for this, but large-scale social barriers are difficult to track across diverse demographics, and there has been little to no scrutiny given to this issue by scholars. 

A report commissioned by Elections Canada in 2011 on the topic of Aboriginal electoral participation states, “Over the last two decades, concern over Aboriginal turnout in Canadian elections has emerged and increased. It has resulted in a small but burgeoning literature. A common observation throughout this work is that voter turnout in federal elections tends to be lower among Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals.”

Joan Grace, a political science professor at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), says the issue is deep-seated
and historical. 

“It’s arrested development,” she says. “They haven’t been able to organically develop their own political culture.” 

Boudreau is hoping to buck this trend by raising awareness and encouraging Indigenous individuals to vote, not just in the civic election, but at every other electoral level as well. 

The group has organized a forum on Sept. 27 at Thunderbird House, where people from the community can ask questions of the mayoral candidates. 

To date, five of seven candidates have confirmed they will participate in the event, with many stressing the importance of such a forum.

According to Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman, the Aboriginal vote is often overlooked - something he feels is

“You hear in the political establishment all the time, ‘The Indigenous population doesn’t vote, don’t waste your time’ and that is morally wrong,” Bowman says. “All Winnipeggers deserve respect and inclusion in the political process.” 

These sentiments are echoed by candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette. 

“It is incredibly important for Indigenous people to vote,” Ouellette says via email, “because it really can make a difference. If our community really turned out to vote in numbers, we could affect the outcome of elections at every level of government; city, provincial and federal.”

Peter Dalla-Vicenza, communications director for Judy Wasylycia-Leis’s campaign added to this, saying, “Judy wants Winnipeg to be a city that works for all its citizens. She also wants to make sure as many people as possible participate (in) the electoral process.”

Boudreau hopes that will happen, and she’s getting the message out. 

“We want Indigenous people to take interest in the election, and we’re emphasizing to them that their voice matters,”
she says.

Published in Volume 69, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 24, 2014)

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