This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2019

Why I don’t vote in colonial politics

Abstaining is both important and inherent to me; here's why

Andrea Landry

Image: iStock/JPA1999; Design: Valerie Thai

“Indigenous nations are their own sovereign nations.” It’s a rhetoric stated consistently in a variety of arenas, both political and non-political. It is a truthful rhetoric at that.

Being Anishinaabe, and also raising an Anishinaabe/Nehiyaw/Nakoda daughter, has further affirmed the truth that we are, 100 percent, our own sovereign nations as Indigenous Peoples. It has affirmed this truth within myself as I think about the future my daughter will have growing up on the political landscape that exists today, constantly having to fight for the truth of her inherent rights.

As such, we as Indigenous nations have absolutely no business in voting within a political system founded and grounded on the continued genocidal, assimilative practices and policies that make up “Canada” today.

When my ancestors made treaty  with the Crown, the original intent and outcome was never based on the idea that we, as Indigenous nations, would assimilate to the point that we would deem our own political and traditional governance systems irrelevant and dissolvable.

With this knowledge, I know that in order to have strong, healthy nations, I must raise my daughter with the knowledge of the original intent and outcome of those treaties. This, in turn, aids in the reminder of the immortality of treaty.

The fact is, treaties are of international stature. Canada has created a false narrative that these treaties have already been “fulfilled,” and even the idea that it is time for, the colonially named, “new nation to nation relationship.” And so many of our people are cattle to that idea. The idea, framed in other words, really just means that Canada is ready to enact their next stage of their assimilation policies.

I, for one, am not for these processes. I stand firm in who I am, and where I come from, as an Anishinaabe person on these lands. And with that knowing any ideas or commitments that come from this “new nation to nation relationship” are as void as any identity colonial governments have given me in my lifetime.

Another fact is that only sovereign nations can make treaty. They are agreements made between two nations, an eternal commitment. And many people forget that.

What many people are also forgetting—or aren’t even learning about—is that treaties, 1 to 11 specifically, created an agreement between Indigenous nations and the Crown that gave permission to the queen to enact her government, which eventually took the shape of Canada.

Also, Canada holds absolutely no title to the land. Even though they place it out like they do. Indigenous Peoples, and our nations, were, and are, the ones who gave that permission for Canada to even be what it is today. Settlers who live on these lands today are only here because of the permission that was given when those treaties were signed.

That doesn’t mean I’m going around reminding settlers on who allowed them to build their lives and families on these lands, unless of course their racism creates the space for me to. It is simply a piece of knowledge that must be made known to all people when learning about the history of these lands on which we live.

So, here we are, in a space where Canada attempts to define our peoples as domestic ethnic minorities, rather than the sovereign nations that we are. The trauma that colonialism inflicted on our peoples, and that it continues to attempt to inflict, has confused the collective mind of many Indigenous Peoples. The colonially created trauma that was deeply rooted in my childhood was a direct outcome of Canada attempting to define who my family was, as Anishinaabe peoples, and doing everything they can to control us.

This confusion has led many families to follow the concept of “pan-Aboriginalism,” and the “Aboriginal Canadian” that abides by, complies with, and conforms to Canadian perspectives of how an Indigenous person is to conduct themselves. We see this being fulfilled when Indigenous Peoples, of their own sovereign nations, are becoming political members within another nation’s (Canada’s) political system.

Me, as an Indigenous person—from an Indigenous nation—participating, and becoming a part of Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal politics would be like Donald Trump coming into Canada’s system and becoming a member of parliament.
It doesn’t make it any sense.

So why have we allowed it to make sense for our people today?

Some people make the suggestion of a “First Nations,” or “Aboriginal” political party.

A First Nations political party will only create an inheritance of this debt to ourselves as Indigenous Peoples, when in reality, that debt is not even ours to carry in the first place.

Because of treaties, Canada is in debt to us, as Indigenous Peoples. The goal is to treat us like ethnic minorities in order to alleviate that debt. To relieve that debt, they must assimilate us as Indigenous Peoples, and many of our people are falling for it. The narrative has brainwashed a lot of our peoples to the point where reinstating our original traditional governance systems have become a no-go zone. Going to that no-go zone is what our children, as Indigenous Peoples, need in the times of crises that we are constantly facing today.

I am doing my best to raise my daughter with that knowledge, and to equip her with the tools to speak up when people state otherwise.

John A. Macdonald has been quoted saying that “we must take the Indian out of the child” in order to “solve the Indian problem.” This is a concept that is still publicly being practiced today. In fact, the concept of “the Indian problem” didn’t ever go away in the eyes of Canada, it was just transformed into the debt problem. Every colonial political party aims to relive that debt in some way, shape, or form.

With this genocidal history in mind, and with the attempts being ongoing today, I continue to restate the truth that there never was an “Indian problem” in the first place. Because from the lens of Indigenous systems, there is only the problem of colonialism.

So for myself, voting in Canada represents me justifying and agreeing with the unlawful and colonial perceptions of the treaty relationship, along with all the assimilation processes that have, and are continuing to, take place today. Ultimately, it would be compromising what my ancestors had put their lives into, and what they prayed about, specifically in relation to treaty.

The solutions to our struggles as a result of colonialism are not in a vote every four years in a system that created these problems. The solutions are in the revival of our kinship systems, the protection of our children, and the affirmation of who we have always been as Indigenous Peoples. It is in the reoccupation of our lands and governing systems, which worked for us for generations prior to colonialism.

The aim is to manipulate the next generations of our peoples to forget about that. And we are seeing that in the form of policies and programs targeting Indigenous youth.

The reality is both the Canadian and Indigenous Peoples are blaming the results of the Indian Act for what treaty was supposed to be, rather than what Canada has made it to be.

So rather than investing my time and energy in a system that has created the problems we are facing in the first place, I would rather invest my time and energy in strengthening our communities to our continuing nations through the work of healing our traumas and restoring our kinship systems, and ultimately, how we as Indigenous Peoples relate to our children.

I will always practice strengthening our own Indigenous systems, rather than complying with systems that colonialism has lethally placed
against us.

Because that, in itself, is where our uprising begins.

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