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Lisa Muswagon and Karmen Omeasoo, both Cree from the Prairies, are asking their viewers to vote for Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson, a Cree woman running in the Northern Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, where 63 per cent of eligible voters are First Nations people.

Handout

In a TikTok video created by Winnipeg-based musicians Karmen Omeasoo, also known as Hellnback, and his wife, Lisa Muswagon, Mr. Omeasoo appears from behind a tree with his own rendition of Queen’s I Want to Break Free. “The youth know, the youth know that we must break free,” he sings.

Ms. Muswagon and Mr. Omeasoo, both Cree from the Prairies, are asking their viewers to vote for Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson, a Cree woman running in the Northern Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, where 63 per cent of eligible voters are First Nations people, the highest proportion in the country. The riding has been held by NDP MP Niki Ashton since 2008.

Ms. Muswagon, a mother of six and a University of Winnipeg student, said that traditionally families in Northern Manitoba would vote as a unit. (She is originally from that part of the province, but the family moved to Winnipeg because her husband needs dialysis treatments.)

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“We get influenced by our families to vote for this person, vote for that person,” she said. “I encourage young people to make their choice.

“For us as artists, we want to use our creativity to encourage the Indigenous vote.”

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski is one of 24 ridings across the country where First Nations voters could be the deciding factor on election day, according to an analysis of data from Statistics Canada and Elections Canada by the Assembly of First Nations. To court their vote, candidates, political parties and campaign staff have been engaging constituents through social media and community visits.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Riding

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Winnipeg

ONTARIO

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THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPEN-

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Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Riding

Hudson

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MANITOBA

Lake

Winnipeg

SASK.

ONTARIO

Winnipeg

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KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; statistics canada

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Riding

Hudson

Bay

MANITOBA

Lake

Winnipeg

SASK.

ONTARIO

Winnipeg

0

150

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THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; statistics canada

A history of colonialism and disenfranchisement had long shut out First Nations peoples from federal elections. First Nations didn’t have the right to vote without being stripped of Indian status until 1960.

Elections Canada has tracked on-reserve voter turnout since 2000. That year, 48 per cent of on-reserve voters cast ballots, with turnout climbing to a record high of 61.5 per cent in 2015 before dropping to 51.8 per cent in the 2019 election.

AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said she is encouraging First Nations people to vote for the party that offers the best solutions and partnerships to keep the country moving forward on the path to truth and reconciliation. She said Indigenous people and Canadians want reconciliation and healing, particularly after the horrific discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

“These recoveries are now known, not only across Canada but around the world. And they’ve deeply impacted Canadians and our allies particularly,” she said.

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The AFN has outlined its priorities for the election, including truth and reconciliation, climate change and inherent and treaty rights. But Ms. Archibald said that, as the leader of a non-partisan organization, she has chosen not to vote in order to remain unbiased toward the next government, “no matter what stripe they are.”

Tania Cameron, an Anishinaabe mother and community advocate from Kenora, Ont., was the organizer behind the 2015 Rock the First Nations Vote campaign that saw the 14-percentage-point increase in on-reserve voter turnout. She did the work as a non-partisan but with the goal of removing Stephen Harper and the Conservatives from government.

During this election campaign, she is the Indigenous Rock the Vote organizer for the federal NDP. Ms. Cameron said her goal is to persuade First Nations to vote together in ridings that can determine the election outcomes identified by the AFN. This includes her riding, Kenora, which comprises 36 First Nations – most of which voted NDP in 2019, according to her own data.

She said on-the-ground organizers on the day of the election are imperative for ensuring community members get to the polling stations. They go door to door, make appeals on the local radio stations and co-ordinate transportation for voters.

“If First Nations would agree to vote together … First Nations people in this riding can determine who is elected,” she said.

The Kenora riding has swung between the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP. Conservative Eric Melillo won in 2019 and is campaigning for re-election. Ms. Cameron hopes First Nations voters will continue to support the NDP and elect Anishinaabe lawyer Janine Seymour, who would be the first Indigenous woman MP for the riding.

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Ms. Seymour and Ms. Robinson are among the 54 Indigenous – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – candidates in this year’s campaign, according to a list assembled by the AFN. About half of them are NDP candidates. Of those 54 candidates, 14 are running in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 11 in B.C. and five in Alberta.

Ms. Muswagon said she encourages young people to vote based on the things that matter to them, whether it’s climate change, housing or education. She said some young people don’t vote because they either don’t understand the election process or don’t believe it will have an impact on their lives. But she said she believes having more Indigenous people in the House of Commons will make a difference.

“They are our own voices,” she said. “They know our experiences – that’s the kind of representation we need.”

She is encouraged by the number of Indigenous women running – 30 of the 54 Indigenous candidates.

“What I see in politics is Indigenous women rising, and there was a time when Indigenous women, Indigenous people, couldn’t even vote. This is a historic time.”

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