A record number of Indigenous candidates are running in the federal election this year with what they say is a goal of advancing meaningful change in Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
The Canadian Press analyzed party websites, as well as reached out to each party, to determine how many Indigenous candidates are hoping to get elected in Canada’s 338 ridings on Sept. 20.
The analysis determined there are at least 75 candidates this year compared with 62 in 2019. However, there may be some who haven’t identified themselves as Indigenous.
Ten Indigenous candidates secured a seat in 2019 and eight of them have chosen to run again.
The Canadian Press spoke to some of the candidates and incumbents about why it’s important to have Indigenous people working within what many consider to be colonial governance.
Liberal incumbent Michael McLeod is running for a third term as a member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories.
McLeod, who is Metis, said he believes real change for First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples will only happen if there are more Indigenous peoples working at the federal level.
“We can make more change by being involved on the inside. If we had 100 Indigenous MPs in the House of Commons you can bet that the tone on Indigenous issues would be a lot louder than it is right now.”
McLeod said he aligns himself with the Liberals because they have done more for the North than the previous Conservative government. He said he hopes to stay in office to build on the work the Liberals have done on housing and land-title agreements.
Liberal popularity has waned in Indigenous communities over the last six years for several reasons, including the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and its failure to live up to a promise to end long-term boil water advisories within five years of taking office.
It also took a hit for its rocky relationship with Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister and former Liberal MP, Jody Wilson-Raybould, after she accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of pressuring her over the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for fraud.
Philip Charbonneau, a PhD candidate at Western University in London, Ont., is writing his dissertation on Indigenous candidates and the Indigenous vote. He said there are still people confident in the Liberal government.
“I don’t really see it as a collapse of trust there yet,” said Charbonneau.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the organization representing northern First Nations in the province, said Tuesday the chiefs passed a motion at its 40th annual general assembly last month to endorse and support Shirley Robinson, Liberal candidate for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, and they are encouraging First Nation citizens to vote for her as well. Incumbent Niki Ashton, who is non-Indigenous, has held the seat for the NDP since 2008.
Chiefs in Manitoba said they may support and endorse various Indigenous candidates who are running across the parties.
The Liberal party said it has 25 Indigenous candidates.
For NDP incumbent Leah Gazan, the desire to run again in Winnipeg Centre comes down to her love for the community.
“This has been the greatest privilege and honour of my life to be trusted to advocate for a community that I adore,” Gazan said.
Gazan, a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan, said diverse representation in Parliament is important and she will continue to push for that, but she realizes it’s not always easy for Indigenous women.
Earlier this year, NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Wilson-Raybould each took to social media to announce they would not be running for another term.
Qaqqaq, the lone MP for Nunavut, told the House of Commons in June that she had been racially profiled by security officials and did not feel safe.
In a scathing post, Wilson-Raybould described her time in Parliament as “toxic and ineffective.”
Kathy Walker, an assistant professor in political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said “it’s not a party problem. It’s a systemic problem.”
Gazan said that’s why it’s necessary for more Indigenous people to take up political space.
“If our voice isn’t there, whose voice is going to be?”
The NDP said it has 29 Indigenous candidates.
First-time candidate Laura MacKenzie, an Inuk from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, is hoping to turn the territory blue for the first time since former health minister and MP Leona Aglukkaq was voted out six years ago.
MacKenzie said she is running for the Conservatives because the party “values dependability and hard work.”
As a former business owner, MacKenzie said she understands “the struggle of running a business” and believes the Conservatives are the best choice to support Nunavut’s economy.
The Conservative party said it has five Indigenous candidates. The Canadian Press was able to determine a sixth Indigenous candidate.
Lorraine Rekmans, an Anishinaabe from Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, is heading into her sixth campaign as a candidate for the Green party.
She said some of the major federal election issues align with her core values for the first time in her political career.
“My whole political endeavour has been about Indigenous rights and climate change, and finally it just seems like these two questions will be important at the ballot box.”
The Green party said it has 11 Indigenous candidates.
The People’s Party of Canada said it has four.
— With files from Emma Tranter in Iqaluit
© 2021 The Canadian Press