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Canada Canada's urban aboriginals feel politically unrepresented, poll finds

Mark Podlasly, a Harvard grad who runs his own environmental consulting business, is a member of the N'laka'pamux First Nation.

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/The GLOBE AND MAIL

Canada's aboriginal leadership faces a potential challenge to its legitimacy from the growing movement of aboriginal people to the city, according to a major survey of Canada's urban aboriginal population.

The poll, conducted by the Environics Institute, shows that more than 40 per cent of urban aboriginals can't identify any political organization, aboriginal or mainstream, that best represents them.

The Assembly of First Nations, an organization of reserve-based chiefs, receives the most support of any political body at 13 per cent, followed by the New Democratic Party at 11 per cent, the Métis National Council at 10 per cent, the Liberal Party at 8 per cent, the Green Party at 4 per cent and the Conservatives at 3 per cent. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples was chosen by less than 1 per cent of respondents.

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"Aboriginal people living in the city do not feel very well represented by any organization," said Ginger Gosnell-Myers, who managed the Environics study. "There's hundreds of thousands of aboriginal people living in cities without a clear voice."

About half of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginal people live in urban centres, the study says. Most are politically engaged, but 41 per cent say they are not well represented.

Calvin Helin, an aboriginal lawyer based in Vancouver, says aboriginals are sending a clear message to their leadership: They want to be able to vote for their own leaders. A movement to have the national chief of the AFN elected by direct ballot fizzled last year because it failed to garner much support among elected band chiefs. The national chief, who holds considerable sway in the national policy debate, is currently elected by a vote of more than 600 chiefs from across Canada.

"There's a lot of resentment that there isn't any representation, and I think that clearly came out in the study," Mr. Helin said. "Once there is equal representation, and everybody has the chance to elect the national chief of the AFN, for example, people I think will have a much greater sense of ownership."

Angus Toulouse, Ontario regional chief of the AFN, said his organization does its best to represent its people wherever they live. He said he's not opposed to the idea of a one-person, one-vote system to elect a national chief, but the idea requires further study.

"We need to address the urban issues our people are facing," Mr. Toulouse said.

Mark Podlasly, a member of the Nlaka'pamux First Nation who runs an environmental consulting business, said aboriginals living in a city often feel they have nowhere to turn for political representation.

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"People think the AFN represents them, but [urban aboriginals]are outside their mandate. I don't know who to call as an aboriginal person," he said. "There has to be a connecting of the dots in the cities that says these are what our issues are and this is the organization that's going to represent us."

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