Message from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels – October 9, 2019:
Boozhoo, Aniin, Hau, Tansi.
My name is Jerry Daniels, and I am the current Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization. As Grand Chief, I have been advocating for the rights of 34 communities in Southern Manitoba since January 2017 and have heavily directed SCO’s efforts towards projects in political advocacy, economic development, CFS, and justice files. Along the way, I have played a significant role in ensuring that the rights of SCO-member communities are being respected, having pushed for legislative changes around these areas during my time in office.
To me, politics play an integral role in how we as Indigenous people are heard and recognized. Having the wrong leadership in power can create barriers to the advancements of First Nation peoples. This is why I have taken the initiative to encourage all Indigenous peoples to exercise their democratic right to vote in the upcoming Federals Election, on October 21, 2019. I call upon all First Nation and Indigenous citizens to cast their ballots this election season.
One demographic I especially would like to see show up at the polls are our Indigenous Youth. In the 2015 Federal Election, on-reserve voter participation increased by 14 per cent, despite the whole of Canada’s participation having only grown by a mere 5.8 per cent. This year, voters under 35 represent the largest voting block in Canada, yet these are the ones least likely to vote. Studies have highlighted that young Canadians follow current events closer than people in other age groups, but their voter turnout rate has been nine to 21 per cent lower than the rest of the population in the past three elections. Furthermore, the Indigenous population has grown by 42.5 per cent, a rate which is four times the non-Indigenous population. Why the disparity?
With Indigenous youth as one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country it is imperative that they understand the weight and relevance of their vote, and that utilizing their votes will impact change in election results. Voting is a tangible mechanism to have their voices heard.
Through the guidance of sit-downs with elders, Chiefs, and frequent community visits, part of my mandate has been to empower Indigenous youth. The SCO Youth Council was created in 2018 after a resolution was passed by the Southern Chiefs’, which granted an elected male and female Youth Chief to each have a seat at the Chiefs’ table. This was a way to engage young people in the politics of their nations, and to educate them in the processes of leadership. I believe that meaningful early engagement and inclusion of young people in the democratic processes and decisions that impact their lives will lead to larger voter turnouts.
When we do not cast our vote for Canadian leadership in their elections, our concerns can be ignored. When we do not position ourselves as a significant voter block that needs to be listened to and respected for our political impact, then political parties do not need to make us a priority. As First Nations, we have our own systems of governance that have been in place for centuries. Colonization has disrupted and altered our lives, our communities, and our governance structures. I believe that our systems are in the midst of a cultural and political resurgence that one day will see the restoration of true governance and sovereignty over our own people and territories. However, we are not collectively at that point yet. Some may be—that is beautiful, but it will take time and cohesive efforts to get there collectively to navigate and enforce that system. In the meantime, as we develop, it would be a missed opportunity to turn a blind eye to Canadian politics and not engage with the systems that impact our lives. If you choose not to recognize Canada as a state, they will not recognize you.
We can not afford to continue to be abused by policies that impede on our quality of life. We are in a time where we walk in two worlds, and must find the mediums that make us confident and secure in our traditional foundations while also being educated in the colonial systems that we have not been able to escape. We are essentially forced to be twice as good, twice as engaged, and twice as aware of our identities as First Nation peoples in Canada, or we risk being left behind again. Some would say it is not fair what we expect and ask of First Nations people, but I believe that we are up to the task. Take the time to ensure that we are all given the supports, skills, and education required to preserve our heritage, culture, and identities as Indigenous peoples. Miigwetch, Ekosi, Pidamayaye!
About Grand Chief Jerry Daniels:
Jerry Daniels is a proud member of Long Plain First Nation, graduated from University of Manitoba in economics. Daniels has served on numerous boards and councils at local, regional, and national levels. Grand Chief Daniels is focused on the improvement of our quality of life and is a solutions-driven leader. “It is important our knowledge base continues to grow but equally important is our relationship with one another.”