Indigenous voters overcame long lines at on-reserve polling stations that, in some cases, ran out of ballots – a signal that aboriginals are increasingly willing to participate in a Canadian democratic system that some had viewed as antithetical to their sovereign identity, indigenous leaders say.
Some prominent chiefs voted federally for the first time in Monday's political contest, which elected a record 10 indigenous MPs and brought to power a Liberal Party that promised to "re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation" relationship with aboriginals. Preliminary Elections Canada figures point to the highest voter turnout since 1993, at more than 68 per cent, with the largest increase seen in Nunavut.
The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) were among those who voted for the first time federally and who spent the tightly fought election encouraging community members to vote.
Both organizations released statements Tuesday welcoming the rise of Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party, which has pledged, among other policy items, to meet annually with aboriginal leaders and launch a national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women.
"[Indigenous people] are seeing the importance of having an influence in terms of how Ottawa makes decisions," AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said, adding that the Idle No More movement in 2013 helped pave the way to indigenous political engagement today. "It's the idea that you can cast a ballot in the Canadian election without compromising your sense of sovereignty and your sense of belonging to your nation."
An Elections Canada study examining on-reserve turnout between 2004 and 2011 found that polling stations in First Nations communities consistently drew far fewer voters; on-reserve turnout was, on average, 17.4 points lower than general turnout. It also found on-reserve turnout followed the same fluctuations as the rest of the country in the past four elections. Official data on poll-by-poll engagement in Monday's contest are not immediately available, but the trend – and anecdotal evidence – point to ramped-up indigenous turnout.
Nicole Robertson of the Rock the Indigenous Vote initiative said that after weeks of mobilizing aboriginal electors and educating voters on registration requirements, she was pleased to see her social-media feed overwhelmed with photos of people lining up to vote.
Some First Nations communities saw such unexpectedly high turnout that they ran low on ballots, including Wab Kinew's home community of Onigaming, in Ontario's riding of Kenora. Elections Canada spokeswoman Diane Benson said ballot supply and poll staffing are linked to the number of pre-registered voters – an approach Mr. Kinew criticized as "out of touch" given on-reserve "dynamics" and the number of indigenous people who registered at the last minute.
"Is this is the message you want to send to first-time voters?" said Mr. Kinew, a high-profile author and the University of Winnipeg's associate vice-president for indigenous affairs. "Do we want to tell them, 'Hey, we weren't expecting you to show up?' "
Liberal candidate Bob Nault beat out Conservative incumbent Greg Rickford in the riding, which saw a turnout of 72 per cent (this does not include those who registered on voting day).
In Alberta, Siksika First Nation's band-membership manager lamented that some potential voters left the queue when they learned the ballots ran out. Ida Duck Chief said ballots were replenished within about 15 minutes and that a second supply came later in the afternoon.
Ms. Benson said a special adaptation was made to the Elections Act on Oct. 12, allowing for ballots to be photocopied if necessary. The adaptation, which came amid four days of advanced polling that drew 71 per cent more voters than in 2011, says a deputy returning officer is responsible for getting photocopies made. Ms. Duck Chief said nobody at the Siksika polling station was aware photocopying was an option.
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha