The Indigenous Vote: Misunderstood

I’ve had time to talk with other indigenous people as well as do a bit of personal reflection and I think I know where I stand regarding federal politics as an Indigenous person. There’s a large section of the Indigenous community that’s ignored or not taken seriously because we don’t represent a fantasy of what Indigenous people should be like. In the “Inconvenient Indian” Thomas King talked about the dead indian, he says “they are the stereotypes and clichés….” We put on regalia, do grounding ceremonies and THAT is what society is okay with. The suicides, addictions and apathy to social and political correctness are less appealing, and not just to white folks but to other minorities as well.

I’ll make you even more uncomfortable. Because of poverty and historical trauma Indigenous people just don’t care about big election topics like immigration, climate change, middle class commodities (buying houses, child care, etc.) and taxes. We just aren’t the indians you want us to be, the kind that are tree huggers and are vehemently against capitalism and modernity. Those folks exist, but I’m certainly not one of them.

“What do you people want, then?” That’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a while. The more desperate nations in Canada, first and foremost, need clean water, food and access to medicine. For the rest of us, we need cultural change. The old ways and the white ways aren’t helping us. Plain and simple. In fact, learning about the old ways is just as much of a privilege as it is to access the white ways (employment, etc.), and both aren’t helpful. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of utility in Indigenous ways of knowing, but it has as much utility as old western philosophy (such as philosophies on perseverance like stoicism, or Blackfoot values around prayer and spirituality) — both of which can be useful when traversing structural racism and trauma, but they aren’t going to be a game changer, they’re simply ways of adapting to the game that’s already in play. What my people want is a game changer so that we can join society and at the same time learn our traditional ways of knowing (which is, again, a privilege).

What does this game changer look like? Well we need to address two things: Historical Trauma and poverty. I’ve talked a lot about historical trauma, check out my blog entry titled Suffering and Resiliency as well as my first blog post if you want to hear my take on this.

Poverty and Structural Racism

My definition on structural racism focuses on racial exclusion from the labour market. It can be a boring topic so I’ll summarize it here: Basically people of colour have a hard time finding jobs because white folks will tend to hire other white folks. This is the same with people of colour though: south Asian folks will likely hire other south Asian folks, and so on. It has more to do with trust than hatred, but that’s beside the point. Natives aren’t getting hired even in low skilled jobs because of their race, which is, by definition, racism (and structurally so).

And because of the trauma, natives aren’t completing education in order to increase their skills. This is horrible in this time period because most jobs require education, this is called “Skill-biased technological change” in economics, which means the labour force will only hire skilled workers opposed from unskilled workers. Looping back to the previous paragraph, less skilled workers leads to less opportunities for Indigenous to hire Indigenous.

Outcome: Natives are stuck using social assistance.

Economic theory by Christian Welzel and Ronald Inglehart suggests that if a nation is struggling with poverty and scarcity, their value orientation will be set to survival mode opposed from self expression mode. Survival mode is when you care less about working with people and more about, well, survival. Self expression mode is when you have the privilege to worry about things that aren’t rooted in survival and scarcity.

In conclusion, natives don’t care about being politically correct, we don’t care about housing costs and child care because we can’t afford it regardless, we don’t care about taxes because in our progressive tax system we’re likely low income and don’t pay as much in taxes, and we don’t care about pipelines — in fact we kind of like them because they’ll hire us.

How I feel about pipelines is perhaps a topic for another blog entry but I am for fighting climate change, but through international cooperation policy and carbon taxes.

Anyways, if you’re an Indigenous person who feels this way, don’t feel bad or shamed about it. Do what you need to do to bring food to your family’s table and to be able to live the life you want to live.

My Political Stance

So where do I stand on federal politics? Well, just like I told Trudeau on CBC, federal leaders have the wrong idea when it comes to Indigenous issues, and perhaps that has to do with the fact that Indigenous people don’t have a voice in parliament (another form of structural racism). We’re always out voted by the conservative farmers that we’re surrounded by, atleast where I’m from. I just don’t feel like our real perspective is being recognized in federal politics, only the dead indian perspective that others want to see.

Maybe it’s also the fault of our advocates. My one issue is with activists lately. Many are pretty radical and are therefore misinformed and harmful to the Indigenous community (even many Indigenous activists). I think our civil rights predecessors did a great job at deconstructing the system for our entry; Our job is to work towards rebuilding a system that is equitable while we have these windows of opportunity. Equity that helps boost Indigenous voices in parliament or opportunities that allow for Indigenous to hire Indigenous, things like this will help shift the culture of survival to a more optimistic and empowered one.

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