Indigenous leaders say issues affecting their communities largely ignored during election
TORONTO -- After a federal election that saw little movement in seat count, Indigenous leaders are expressing disappointment with the sidelining of Indigenous issues throughout the campaign.
In the months preceding the election, the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at the site of former residential schools across Canada dominated headlines. But Serpent River First Nation Chief Brent Bissaillon can't fathom why the issue all but disappeared during the campaign.
"Where is our transformative change? My community of Serpent River First Nation is home to two of the largest residential schools in Ontario. We need to heal from our intergenerational effects of that. And again, we didn't hear anything about this during the campaign," he said during a CTV News elections panel on Monday night.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Roseanne Archibald agrees. The AFN even offered to host a leaders' debate on Indigenous issues, but they were unable to get all the parties to sign on.
"Our internal polling showed that the majority of Canadians wanted to know what each of these parties was going to do to address truth and reconciliation, and it wasn't discussed enough," Archibald told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Bissaillon says there's a lack of awareness among the Canadian public when it comes to the history of Canada's treatment of Indigenous people.
"Canadians are fatigued. We're tired of hearing about Indigenous issues. We're tired of listening. It's uncomfortable. I get that. It's an uncomfortable thing to live with the truth of what your country has done. But we have to talk about it. We have to work through these issues," he said.
Dr. James Makokis, a physician based in the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in northeastern Alberta, criticized the Liberals for calling an election that ended with almost the same result as the previous election.
Makokis calculated that the $600 million spent on the election could have been used to build around 2,800 homes in First Nations communities and provide primary health care in every First Nation in the country for 16-and-a-half years.
"That kind of gives you an idea of what can be done, what could have been done with this amount of investment that went towards this election two years from the previous election," Makokis told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday.
Pam Palmater, who is the chair of Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, is cautiously optimistic that a minority Liberal government with the NDP holding the balance of power could result in better outcomes for Indigenous communities.
"I'm more hopeful because the Liberals are in a minority situation, which means they have to work with other parties and the NDP has been historically very effective at pushing the Liberal government," she told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday.
She says that the NDP have been vocal about stopping litigation with Indigenous families over the child welfare system, prosecuting perpetrators of abuses in residential schools, as well as respecting Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.
"I think if you got those two parties working together, we could move forward on a Land Back agenda," she added, in reference to the Land Back movement that calls for control over land and resources to return to Indigenous communities.
Archibald also hopes that a minority parliament can foster better co-operation between parties and applauded the Liberal government's investments in infrastructure in First Nations communities since they took power in 2015.
"We're going to work with them. We've seen that they have been a willing partner, that they have made unprecedented investments into First Nations and their mandate since 2015."
RECORD NUMBER OF INDIGENOUS CANDIDATES
This election saw 77 First Nations, Metis and Inuit candidates on the ballot, more than any other previous election.
However, only 9 have been elected or are leading as of Wednesday morning. That's almost the same number elected in 2019, which saw 10 Indigenous MPs claim seats.
Newcomers who are leading in their ridings as of Wednesday morning include Blake Desjarlais in Edmonton Griesbach and Lori Idlout in Nunavut, both from the NDP. Desjarlais is leading over Conservative incumbent Kerry Diotte, in what might be shaping up to be an upset, while Idlout would be replacing outgoing NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who did not seek re-election after winning in 2019, if she wins.
Adam Chambers, who is Metis, won the seat of Simcoe-North for the Conservatives.
Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and Parliamentary Secretary Yvonne Jones were both re-elected under the Liberal banner, as were Jaime Battiste, Michael McLeod and Vance Badawey.
NDP MP Leah Gazan was also re-elected in Winnipeg Centre.
Marc Dalton, who had been the only Indigenous MP in the Conservative caucus, was also re-elected in Pitt Meadows–Maple Ridge–Mission in B.C.
With files from The Canadian Press