Views My Own

Settler Governments Still Fail at Representing Indigenous People

We vote as means of “harm reduction”—but the outcomes are always stacked against us.
October 23, 2018, 8:20pm
Photo of Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. Photo via CP

Saturday morning I woke up, drank a cup of coffee, and walked two blocks to my neighbourhood voting station. The ballot was roughly the size of roadside billboard and with sharpie in hand, I cast my votes. That night, I watched the news with rapt attention. With a thin margin, Kennedy Stewart won the mayor’s seat and left-leaning Vancouverites celebrated throughout the city. I cheered too, this was exciting after all. Finally, a mayor that was less Lululemon-organic-condo-development and more granola-uncle-getting-arrested for-blocking- pipeline-development. As the left sighed a hefty sigh of relief, the only sigh I heard was from my ancestors, as they watched me yet again, get my hopes up that maybe this white guy in politics will be better than the last white guy in politics.


Every mayor in Vancouver’s history has been a white man, and all but one of Vancouver’s city councillors are white. This is no different than most major metropolitan Canadian cities. In Toronto, John Tory won his second consecutive mayoral race, following in another long line of white mayors. Now you might be thinking, hey, these are only municipal elections what about the big guy at the top of the governmental food chain? Well, from John A. Macdonald to The Young Trudeau it is another list of white political leaders.

When I was a teenager I could not wait to fulfil my civic duty and vote in the 2008 federal election. You definitely remember this election, it is the one where Michaëlle Jean reluctantly agreed to dissolve parliament and call an election early because the Conservatives had good vibes about winning. To me, because I was a giant nerd, this was it. I watched the election with the same vigor I watched The Hills and my crush walk down the hallway. I was blissfully unaware that I was chomping at the bit to vote for another white person to lead this country in our borrowed brand of colonial governance.

Let’s fast forward to the 2011 election. The Liberals replaced Stéphane Dion with Michael Ignatieff and continued on with a mostly beige candidate list. Older, yet still riding some early twenties optimism, I was becoming fully aware that maybe this entire process was playing a game that historically most of my ancestral kin were never given the game pieces to. I was becoming aware that I was playing a game where each move was one step forward for a colonial government and two complicated steps sideways for the inherent self-governing rights of my people and kin. I voted a strategic ABC: Anything but Conservative. This meant that in my home riding, I voted Liberal. (I know, don’t @ me OK). I wanted to vote NDP because despite being another white dude, Jack Layton was a white dude I believed in. The night of the election, bottle of wine in hand, I watched the Conservatives win a majority.

This brings us to 2015, the Harm Reduction Election. We had weathered four years of a Conservative majority, the Harper regime had to come to an end. Enter Justin Trudeau, stage slightly left. This time, I was fully woke to the realization I was voting for the less bad white person. Trudeau won a majority and now we are dealing with a white guy who is kind of better than the last white guy. I am convinced that if Trudeau had a Tinder profile, he would describe himself as a #feminist who is socially liberal but fiscally conservative. He would definitely try to hug my kokum and then apologize on behalf of all white people and then cry a single salty white tear into his cup of tea. Then he would buy the plot of land her house is on and drill for oil. Voting for me, as someone who has never seen my kin represented in government, is harm reduction. Every election has lost the charm it held for me as a teenager, and instead has been replaced with the crushing realization that for me as an Indigenous person, I am actively participating in the same settler-colonial institution that sought to violently destroy my ancestors in order for this country to flourish.

We know #VancouverSoWhite, but does this even matter on stolen land, and do I, as an Indigenous woman, have to actively participate in a settler-colonial way of governance? Well no. I am a firm believer that as Indigenous peoples, we should not have to feel the pressure to perform under colonial expectation. I do feel the need to continue to vote and push for more governmental representation, because this stolen land has become home to more people than just my kin who are continuously hurt by colonialism and white supremacy. My hometown, in rural northeast BC, has a population that is 75 percent white and 25 percent not. Of that 25 percent, 16 percent are Indigenous and 9.8 percent are visible minorities. The history of non-white settlement in Canada is complicated, but at the end of the day everyone is impacted by white supremacy and the long arm colonialism.

The whiteness of the recent Vancouver election did not go unnoticed. Community activist Harsha Walia tweeted ways this government could be less white, with suggestions of introducing proportional representation and creating council seats for the Indigenous Nations whose lands this city is on. At the core of it, and the last point in Walia’s tweet thread, is that for long-term change we need to move beyond “bringing in” people of colour into governmental systems and actually have white people challenge the systemic violence of white supremacy and settler-colonialism. Until then, if voting is harm reduction, I will continue to vote until I live in a future where I don’t have to pick the less bad white guy.

Follow Samantha on Twitter.

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