By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Indigenous people won’t be able to vote on reserve in the upcoming plebiscites and senate elections happening the same day as municipal elections on Oct. 18, Alberta Municipal Affairs has confirmed.
Plebiscite questions include whether Alberta should adopt Daylight Savings Time for the entire year, and whether Albertans support removing Constitutionally-enshrined equalization payments that send funds collected from federal income taxes to less wealthy provinces.
Adam North Peigan, a member of the Piikani First Nation and president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, says not making arrangements for Indigenous peoples to vote on reserve is a brazen form of disenfranchisement.
“I was completely appalled,” said North Peigan. “These issues should have input from all Albertans, whether you’re pink, blue or black.”
Since reserves aren’t technically municipalities, their elections occur on a different timeline.
“However, when you’re going to tie important questions through a referendum to those municipal elections that are going to affect all Albertans, including ones who live on First Nations reserves, we should be entitled to have our say in that,” North Peigan said.
A spokesperson for Minister Ric McIver told Alberta Native News that people who live on reserve, as well as those in summer villages, special areas, improvement areas and the Alberta side of Lloydminster, will have to either travel to the nearest municipality or vote by mail.
“Every Albertan will have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming senate election and referenda,” says McIver spokesperson Mark Jacka.
Work is underway on partnering First Nations reserves with the closest municipality that is having a civic election, who will then provide voting information to residents, Jacka said.
But North Peigan says this is insufficient in upholding First Nations’ voting rights. He says the province must set up polling stations on reserve to ensure First Nations have the same ability to vote as anyone living in a municipality.
The government’s approach is “totally negligent” and “a slap in the face” to the First Peoples living in Alberta, he added.
Left-wing senate candidate Duncan Kinney, who says he’s running to highlight the absurdity of elections for a position appointed by the prime minister, shares North Peigan’s concerns.
“These ‘senate elections’ put on by Premier Jason Kenney have always been a sham, but he is taking them seriously,” says Kinney.
That Indigenous peoples who live on reserve will have to make extra effort to vote moves these elections from the realm of political theatre into “just another instance of white supremacy in action,” he said.
Emergency room physician Dr. Sunil Sookram, who’s also running for senate, says not having polling stations on reserve could “negatively impact many Albertans with disabilities, or have financial hardships impacting transport to neighbouring communities,” as well as seniors who might have mobility issues.
“I empathize and also worry about possible disenfranchisement of a significant and important population in Alberta,” Sookram said, encouraging those who cannot vote in person to do so by mail.