Aly Bear says the voices of young Indigenous voters are crucial in this federal election because they can help make sure the next government prioritizes Indigenous issues that have been continuously overlooked.
The 30-year-old lawyer, who is of Dakota and Anishinaabe heritage and originally from Whitecap Dakota First Nation just south of Saskatoon, says she will vote in the upcoming federal election — and like other young Indigenous voters in Saskatchewan interviewed by CBC News, she expects more than promises.
“I feel reconciliation has just become a word that people are now throwing around,” said Bear. “It’s not being applied.”
Bear said she has heard plenty about reconciliation from federal leaders, including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, but not enough has been been done to address critical issues that have been harmful to First Nations communities.
WATCH | Aly Bear says Canada still has a long way to go on the path to reconciliation:
Bear’s priorities for the upcoming federal election include responses to Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and also to ground surveys that found preliminary evidence of unmarked graves found at the sites of former residential schools operated by the federal government and churches.
“Canada needs to be held accountable,” she said. “The churches need to be held accountable for the genocide that has happened.”
The mother of two — who is also running for the role of third vice chief for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents Saskatchewan’s First Nations — wants action on Indigenous issues.
“Mental health issues, addiction issues and suicide rates — all those things are continuing and almost becoming worse,” said Bear.
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She also pointed to an unfulfilled promise for clean drinking water on all First Nations in Canada, referring to a 2015 pledge by Justin Trudeau to end boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. As of last month, 32 First Nation communities were still dealing with boil water advisories, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
“You have basic human rights being debated in 2021 in the federal election,” Bear said, referring to federal leaders still discussing the unsolved clean water issue on the campaign trail this year.
“We are sitting at tables for years and we’re not getting the settlements or the justice that is owed.”
Bear said she wants federal party leaders to create more space for Indigenous people in leadership.
“We can do land acknowledgements all we want every single day, but if we’re not creating safe spaces for Indigenous peoples, then what are we really doing?”
Most federal candidates don’t understand what Indigenous people need, said Jamin Mike, 24, a student at First Nations University of Canada.
Mike, who is from Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation says he is concerned about clean water, addiction issues and vague reconciliation promises, but the biggest election issue for him has been the what federal leaders will do about the evidence of unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C and elsewhere in Canada.
“My community has a residential school that was built right on the reserve,” he said. “Bringing home our children, first of all, is one of the biggest issues that I feel needs to be addressed within this election.”
He also wants federal leaders to prioritize the lack of clean water in many Indigenous communities. Mike says he’s used to getting water delivered by truck to his home at his First Nation, which is about 80 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. As a result, families in the community have to conserve water.
“I don’t think that is fair considering we aren’t even far from cities at all,” said Mike.
Mike knows some Indigenous people won’t vote in the federal election, and says they shouldn’t be judged for that because First Nations have a “nation-to-nation” relationship with Canada.
But he does plan to vote and said that if he had the chance to meet with one of the party leaders, he would talk about support for people dealing with addictions, among other things.
“We buried a family friend from a fentanyl overdose,” he said. “We have families out there who are addicted. Where is the hope?
And, to the party leaders he would ask, “How can you, through your Western systems, address this?”
‘The voices of Indigenous people need to be heard’
Cheyenne Harriet Jones Ulriksen, 25, wants Indigenous people in Saskatchewan to vote in this upcoming election.
The student at University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon is from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, about 375 kilometres north of Saskatoon. She said Indigenous voices need to be heard, particularly those from remote northern communities.
Climate change, First Nations education systems, food security and clean drinking water are just some of the topics important to her during this federal election, said Jones Ulriksen.
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Looking at the current federal government, she said she doesn’t believe Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are stepping up to the plate.
“They have a lot of pretty words,” she said.
Jones Ulriksen said opportunities need to be there for everyone in Canada. She wants to see a diverse group of “good people in the halls of power,” she said.
“It can’t be one side the grass is greener and the other side is dry and dying, like the dirt roads on the reserve,” she said.