The Liberal Party’s promise to invest in education for Canada’s First Nations sparked Humber College student Harlie Southiére to vote.
The 19-year-old North campus student who identifies as Métis saw how the lack of educational opportunities could harm a community.
So she voted Liberal.
The 2015 federal election was historic for Canada’s First Nations community, with 10 indigenous candidates elected to the House of Commons and a large increase in voter turnout throughout Aboriginal communities.
A record-breaking 54 indigenous candidates ran in total, a major step in political engagement for First Nations. Some heavily Aboriginal ridings reported a 20 per cent increase in voting from the 2011 election, which resulted in some polling stations running out of ballots.
For Humber Liberal Studies professor Kerry Potts, a change from Harper was the driving force behind surging numbers in First Nations voting.
“(In past elections) there’s been a sense of disenfranchisement by the Aboriginal community when it comes to voting. But the message from the Harper government was that Aboriginal people aren’t very important,” said Potts.
Potts, who identifies as Teme-Augama-Anishnaabe and teaches indigenous perspectives on music, film and media, says Harper’s disinterest regarding an inquiry into missing or murdered indigenous women, or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which investigated the abuse of First Nations’ children at Indian Residential Schools and the lingering effects it had for generations of First Nations children, were major factors in motivating Aboriginal voters to make a change.
Jodi Harrington, a third-year student in Humber’s professional baking and pastry arts management program, who identifies as Ojibway, says it was clear that it was time for a change.
Harrington, 20, admits she didn’t vote, but is optimistic for change through the newly elected government.
“I hope the Liberals make good changes,” she said.
Eight of the 10 Aboriginal MPs are Liberals, which made great strides in reaching out to indigenous communities during the campaign. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear working with First Nations groups would be one of his top priorities in office, starting with a follow-up to the TRC.
“(Liberals) seem to have the interest of Aboriginal people in mind,” said Potts.
Trudeau vowed during the election campaign to end boiled-water advisories on reserves within five years.
“We have 93 different communities under 133 different boiled water advisories across the country,” Trudeau said at a town hall hosted by VICE on Oct. 5.
“Within five years, there should be zero. And a Canadian government led by me is going to address this as a top priority,” said Trudeau.
In the nearly three months before the election, Trudeau preached the importance of rebuilding First Nations’ roles in Canada. At a campaign stop in Saskatoon last August, Trudeau said he would commit $515-million a year in First Nations education, $500-million over three years for school infrastructure, and an extra $50-million annually for First Nations post-secondary student support programs.
Southiére, a second-year student in Humber’s funeral services program, says she voted Liberal for the party’s commitment to education.
“My sister and I are the only ones in our family with an education past grade 9,” said Southiére. “It would mean so much if we could invest in education (for First Nations), make up for the lost generations.”
Southiére, 19, grew up beside the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown Reserve, on the outskirts of Thamesville, Ont. She remembers seeing Aboriginal friends drop out of high school, develop bad habits at a young age and lose sight of their roots.
“They were out of touch with their heritage,” she said. “No one took pride in what it means to be Aboriginal.”
“What I’m hoping for is Trudeau acknowledging that there needs to be a culture change in how we educate Canadians on First Nations history and their place in the country.”