What some First Nations leaders are doing to engage Indigenous voters in the Sask. Election

 

The FSIN urged First Nations voters to take advantage of advanced polls. By Jennifer Francis

First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan had a few different ways in making sure their members voted during Monday’s provincial election.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations released a statement on Friday that aimed to remind First Nations eligible voters to head to the polls for Monday’s election.

“All voters are urged to wear masks, practice social distancing and take any necessary precautions while casting their ballots,” The statement read.

Prior to the election, Chief Evan Taypotat of Kahkewistahaw First Nations said there was going to be a polling station on-reserve for the first time.

He said in the federal election last year there were about 130 on-reserve members who voted at the polling station on Kahkewistahaw. For the provincial election, he said he was hoping for the same amount of people.

Taypotat said in preparation for the voting station on Kahkewistahaw, the province employed four members to attend an 8-hour training session. The members were also taught by the province how to maintain COVID-19 protocols in the polling station.

As for encouraging his members to vote, Taypotat said he talked to community members and offered them rides to the poll to make sure their voices were heard.

“First Nation people weren’t allowed to vote in Canada until 1960,” Taypotat said, “So I tell my people to go out and vote.”

Elections Saskatchewan had a few ways in which they had been encouraging Indigenous voting.

It made a pamphlet specifically for Indigenous communities that outlines the importance of voting, as well as how to vote in the provincial election.

“Voting is a way to participate in a democracy,” The pamphlet said, “As an eligible voter, you have the right to vote in a provincial election. The province looks after everyday things like driver’s licences, education, health care, transportation and highways.”

It also made a poster entirely in Cree to encourage people to work at polling stations during the provincial election.

On top of that, Elections Saskatchewan also offered extraordinary voting for three First Nations in the province, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, Lac La Ronge Indian Band and Red Earth Cree Nation.

Extraordinary voting was set in place in several communities who could not hold in-person polling stations due to mandatory isolation or community lockdown. Voting in this manner required the ballot to be physically brought to a person’s residence instead of through the mail.

Elections Saskatchewan also reached out to Cowessess First Nation to house a polling station on-reserve for the first time in a provincial election. Chief Cadmus Delorme said they housed their first provincial polling station and Elections Saskatchewan also trained three community members and one staff member to run the station.

Delorme said leading up to the election, he has been encouraging members of Cowessess to cast their vote.

“Due to the COVID pandemic we do everything we can to keep our community members at home, providing them with services where they would normally go off the reserve so in preparation we let them know that they should exercise their right,” Delorme said.

He said the reserve also helped it’s members figure out what they needed to cast their ballot, such as a voter card or a piece of mail to confirm their address. Chief Delorme said he also offered to give people a ride to the station if they needed.

“We live in democratic society where if you’re not liking the direction that legislation is going, that political drive is going, you have the opportunity to make your impact by making a vote,” Delorme said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a First Nations election, a provincial election, a federal election, this is how we voice our democratic right today.”

He said in addition to the mandatory mask policy on Cowessess already in place, there were standard COVID-19 precautions for the polling stations.

“We had tape on the floor, we had distant areas, people waited in their car if there was a wait,” Delorme said. “We’re in month seven of COVID in Cowessess, we in our community all kinda know our role when it comes to reducing and minimizing the risk.”

He said there was nice turnout for election night Monday and said it was “quite busy” from about 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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