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Natives must exercise right to vote, says AFN chief

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    ... From: Russell Diabo To: Undisclosed-Recipient:; @invalid.domain Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 6:59 AM Subject: Natives must exercise right to vote,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2008
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Russell Diabo
      To: "Undisclosed-Recipient:;"@...
      Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 6:59 AM
      Subject: Natives must exercise right to vote, says AFN chief

      Natives must exercise right to vote, says AFN chief
      Posted 1 hour ago
      Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine said it is in the best interests of Canada's aboriginal communities to vote in the upcoming federal election, adding that what happens on Parliament Hill does have an impact on native reserves.

      The AFN's new campaign, Vote '08, Change Can't Wait!, is targeting aboriginals of all ages across the country, asking them not only to vote, but to "get involved in the election."

      "First Nations issues are very important to Canada, and this campaign, like all other campaigns, is about Canada's future," Fontaine told the Standard-Freeholder yesterday. "If we are absent from this campaign, than the picture that emerges is distorted. We want to make sure that our issues are central to any and all discussion surrounding this election."


      Fontaine said the purpose of the new campaign is not only to get natives out to the polls, but also to bring candidates onto the reserves in hopes of boosting the profile of aboriginal issues.

      "What we're seeing in the general population during this campaign is town hall meetings, public forums, and different types of events that are designed to attract voter support. Those kinds of activities should be taking place in our communities as well," he said.

      "We are encouraging our people to reach out to the parties and to the candidates and invite them to come and speak to their people, right in their communities."

      Here in Cornwall, returning officer Gerald Samson said in his 12 years of working on federal elections, he has seen very little participation from the Akwesasne Mohawk community, adding that traditionally they have chosen not to vote for sovereignty reasons.

      "Every time there is a federal election we have officers that go to the reserve on behalf of Elections Canada and consistently they have politely refused access. We can understand that," he said.

      "We still provide access to polling stations at the office of the electoral officer for those who do wish to participate, but generally we've found that participation is very low, if there is any at all."

      Samson said the only possible exception to the Mohawk Council's decision not to allow Elections Canada on the reserve is to allow voting at the local long-term-care facility, which also houses non-aboriginals whose poor health may not allow them to leave the reserve to exercise their civic rights.

      "At two other elections we were allowed to discretely go that facility and, for an hour or two, be available for the non-aboriginals should their decide to vote," he said. "On other occasions, we've also been denied access to that facility, so we never really know what to expect."

      New Democrat candidate Darlene Jalbert admits that she doesn't even target the Akwesasne community during an election campaign, adding that it was a conversation with an aboriginal woman during a Labour Council function that changed her perspective on the issue.

      "They don't want to feel that the government has any authority over them, that they are self-governing on the reserve, so to vote would mean to accept that the government has power over them. That's the way it was explained to me," she said. "Once I understood why they didn't want to vote, I stopped targeting them, more out of respect than anything else."

      Fontaine said he too respects the decision of some aboriginals not to participate in the election, adding that the new campaign is not meant to try and force natives out to the polls, but to encourage them to take an interest in something that could potentially impact their lives.

      Copyright © 2008 The Cornwall Standard Freeholder

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