By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The Alberta Legislature has been without Indigenous representation since 2015, but that appears likely to change on May 29.
According to analysis from Windspeaker, there are 13 confirmed Indigenous candidates in this year’s provincial election — a decrease of six from the 2019 election. However, this time there are a few Indigenous candidates who are running in ridings their party has a strong chance of winning.
What follows is an overview of Indigenous candidates running for the two main parties, as well as the Alberta Party and Greens.
Neither the NDP nor UCP responded to requests to make any of their Indigenous candidates available for an interview.
For the NDP, Alexander First Nation in-house legal counsel Brooks Arcand-Paul is running in Edmonton-West Henday and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, a member of Michel First Nation is running in Edmonton-Rutherford — both seats were represented by the NDP in the last Legislature.
Arcand-Paul and Stonehouse are two of the five Indigenous people running for the NDP in this election. Samson Cree Nation Coun. Katherine Swampy is running in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin against Rick Wilson, who most recently served as the UCP Indigenous relations minister.
The federal Wetaskiwin riding, which included Maskwacis, was where Ermineskin First Nation Chief Wilton Littlechild was elected as a PC MP in 1988.
Since then, Swampy told Windspeaker, many of the riding’s Indigenous inhabitants voted PC, but that party no longer exists on the federal or provincial level. She said the former party’s commitments to building public infrastructure and increasing royalties on oil and gas companies under premiers such as Peter Lougheed and Ed Stelmach “is closer to what we as an NDP are today.”
About 5.7 per cent of NDP candidates in this election are Indigenous, compared to 6.8 per cent of the province’s general population.
Tanika Chaisson, a member of the Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland, is running for the NDP in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, and Richard Bruneau, who is running in Camrose, is Métis.
UCP Lesser Slave Lake candidate Scott Sinclair is a non-status First Nation member, the party’s sole Indigenous candidate, representing 1.1 per cent of the UCP slate. That riding was represented by the last Indigenous legislator, PC Pearl Calahasen.
Sinclair defeated two other Indigenous candidates for the UCP nomination — former Big Stone Cree Nation chief Silas Yellowknee and Driftpile Cree Nation member Jerrad Cunnigham. His third opponent, Martine Carifelle, is married to a man from Swan River First Nation, where they live.
Sinclair defeated runner-up Carifelle by five votes, according to independent journalist Dave Cournoyer.
UCP leader Danielle Smith has claimed Cherokee ancestry, but these claims were debunked by APTN reporter Danielle Paradis, who consulted a genealogist and tribal records.
The Alberta Party is running two Indigenous candidates out of 22 total candidates, representing nine per cent of its slate.
Lynn Lekisch, who is of Cree and Beaver heritage, is running in the northern riding of Central Peace-Notley, and Patrick Stewart is running in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Lekisch told Alberta Native News that she was interested in politics at a relatively young age through the stories of her maternal grandmother, who is a residential school survivor. Her grandmother lost her registration with the Sucker Creek First Nation, because she was unable to prove her Indigenous heritage after she left the forced assimilation institution at age 18.
“I’m really proud of the fact, as an Indigenous individual, that we’ve actually been able to be involved in politics,” she said, noting how Indigenous people weren’t granted the right to vote until 1960.
Lekisch, an environmental scientist and livestock producer, was initially involved with the NDP, serving in executive roles with the constituency association in her riding, which is named after former NDP leader, and Rachel Notley’s father, Grant Notley, who represented the area in the now-defunct Spirit River-Fairview riding. Lekisch resides in Fairview, the same town where Rachel Notley grew up.
She sought the NDP nomination for Central Peace-Notley last year, but lost it to Megan Ciurysek, who lives in Peace River, which is located in an adjacent riding.
Lekisch said she became “frustrated with the way Alberta New Democrats dealt with their rural constituencies” by parachuting candidates in from other ridings.
She emphasized that she still has great respect for the NDP and agrees with their health-care and education policies.
But after her defeat for the NDP nomination, she was approached by Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita to run for his party.
Lekisch agreed to run because she appreciates the Alberta Party’s “more centrist and more pragmatic” approach to politics than the two major parties.
She said she’s “surrounded by a lot of very conservative voters” who believe the NDP is too far left.
“We need to bridge that gap,” Lekisch said. “We need to allow the democratic process to play out and work together to make sure that Alberta’s best interests are being looked after.”
The party with the greatest proportion of Indigenous candidates is the Greens, with five of their slate of 41, representing 12.2 per cent of their slate. This is the same number of Indigenous candidates as the NDP, but since their slate is less than half the size, it’s more than double the percentage.
Heather Morigeau, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, is challenging Adriana LaGrange, who most recently served as the UCP education minister, in Red Deer-North. In 2019, she ran for the Greens in Calgary-Buffalo, which is represented by the NDP’s former finance minister, Joe Ceci.
This time, Jonathan Parks, who is Métis, is running for the Greens in Calgary-Buffalo.
Two additional Métis candidates, Tyler Beaulac in Edmonton-North West and Cheri Hawley in Edmonton-Whitemud, are challenging NDP incumbents David Eggen and Rakhi Pancholi, respectively.
Tigra-Lee Campbell, who is Black and Indigenous, is running for the Greens in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright against UCP backbencher Garth Roswell.
“I feel that a lot of Albertans right now are concerned about the direction the province is going in. They have concerns about the way health care is being mismanaged and the way our finances are being given to corporations, instead of ensuring social services are available to everyone,” Morigeau told Windspeaker.