First Nations leaders, community members encourage voting in Sask. election

·5 min read

As many people are gearing up to head to the polls on Monday for the Saskatchewan provincial election, some First Nations leaders in the province are working to make sure their community members get out to vote.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said his community is hosting a polling station for on-reserve members to vote.

"In the democracy that we have today, the way that we steer direction and strategy, for not only Cowessess but for Treaty 4 territory, our province as a whole, is through voting," Chief Delorme said.

It's the first time Cowessess will host a polling station for a provincial election, he said, though the community has done so with past federal elections.

Four people who work on or are from Cowessess will administer the polling station at the local community centre.

Delorme said he does encounter some apathy from his community members about voting in provincial elections but thinks this year will be different, "after the walk with Tristen [Durocher]."

He also pointed to Cowessess's relationship with the province.

'We do renewable energy with SaskPower, which is a Crown [corporation] of the province," Delorme said. "I do believe that more are going to come forward to make their vote."

Rob Kruk/CBC
Rob Kruk/CBC

Terry Sanderson, a member of the James Smith Cree Nation, said he will be voting in-person on election day and has voted in every past provincial election he could.

"We've got to exercise our rights and have a say in who's going to be in government," Sanderson said. "If we don't do that, then why are we complaining?"

Sanderson is the former chief of James Smith and said when he was in office, he spoke to his members about the importance of voting.

"The last couple of years the province is really getting into our business.… They push their jurisdiction over us when it comes to child welfare, policing, you name it," he said.

"If we're going to go there then fine, let's exercise [our rights], sit down with the government, whoever it is, and say, 'This is what we're looking for.'"

'We have to have a voice'

Debbie Delorme is the roving supervising deputy returning officer for this year's polling stations on Cowessess First Nation, Sakimay First Nation and Kahkewistahaw First Nation.

"It's important to work for the elections [because] we have to have a voice as First Nation people to what is around us and what is happening in everyday life," she said. "We have to have an opinion and make a point."

"I encourage all people to go out and vote if they want changes."

Sanderson said in the last number of years, voting on James Smith Cree Nation has been "pretty slow."

"People are kind of sighing away from it now. I think people are getting really frustrated in the fact that we're really not getting anywhere with the province in terms of First Nation issues," he said.

"'Why should we vote?' You know, I hear people talk like that."

Tracy Grey-Delorme, a member of Cowessess First Nation, plans on voting in this year's provincial election, and said she's always voted federal and provincial elections.

"It's very important for our First Nations people to have a say," Grey-Delorme said.

She said she believes the most important issue in this year's election is health care, both physical and mental.

"There are so many crises, even with drug addictions, so to me that's a huge factor."

'Get your voice heard'

Danny Mirasty, a Lac La Ronge Indian Band member who lives in Prince Albert, said he will be casting a vote on Monday.

He said while some Indigenous people may be apathetic when it comes to provincial elections, there are contributions provincial governments make to Indigenous communities they represent.

Mirasty noted his own band still has ties to the provincial government, through agreements with Crown corporations in a variety of different projects, and said other communities are likely in a similar situation.

"To the younger generation and the people of today, I'd say go out and vote," Mirasty said.

"Get your voice heard. Any election that comes to you, [get out] to vote. At least you got your vote and you had your say in the process of things."

As a voter, he said he's looking for a government that better understands the issues that are important to Indigenous people throughout Saskatchewan, both on reserve and off, and encouraged other Indigenous voters to do the same.

He said those who choose to not vote ultimately miss the chance to have a say in improving their lives.

Voting in the time of COVID-19

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) released a statement Friday, encouraging Indigenous people to go out and vote.

"All voters are urged to wear masks, practise social distancing and take any necessary precautions while casting their ballots," the statement said.

Cadmus Delorme said during the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting a polling station on Cowessess First Nation will reduce travel and minimize the risk of the virus spreading, along with creating a few extra short-term jobs for its members.

He said there will be a limited number of people allowed into the community centre at a time, and there will be tape on the floor to make sure voters maintain physical distancing guidelines. There is a mandatory mask policy already in place on Cowessess.

Chief Delorme added that as leaders of the First Nation, he and his councillors only provide the opportunity to vote. Who to vote for is left up for the individual members to decide.

"That's their democratic right," he said. "We are putting a polling station on Cowessess just to make sure that we empower our people to exercise their democratic right."