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Here’s Why, as an Indigenous Person, I Voted for Trudeau in the Canadian Election

The thought of four more years of Harper was like an evil ghost climbing up my asshole and shaking me to the core.

Posted the week of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report's release. Photo via Facebook/Justin Trudeau

Ryan is an Anishinaabe/Metis comedian and writer based out of Treaty #1 territory (Winnipeg, MB). This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Well, Canada. You did it.

You got rid of Stephen Harper. Thanks. Solid move. If this is step one in the reconciliation project of this country, good on ya.

On October 19, 2015, Canada (and some of Indian Country) voted in a Liberal majority government in a landslide. In Indian Country, we call the Prime Minister a lot of things—Transfer Payment Sugar Daddy, The Great White Savior, and The Guy Who Represents the Queen. Many of us have a meh/hate relationship with the government. A few of us have a meh/meh relationship with the government. And even fewer of us fly the flag of colonization and assimilation proudly—hello Aboriginal Canadians.


We have officially entered the era of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For some of us, the last name "Trudeau" gives us warm feelings of the Anishinaabe "Trudeau families" spread out across Unceded Territory at Wikwemikong and other stops along the beautiful Northern shores of the Great Lakes. For others, the name "Trudeau" makes us put on camouflage and light shit on fire as we think of the 1969 White Paper.

There is a NEW Trudeau in town, though: One who would likely be welcomed in for moose stew and hot tea by the Trudeau's that I know in Northern Ontario. One who better not try to pull the same shit his dad did 40 something years ago. One who beat the shit out of Senator Patrick Brazeau—which many of us in Indian Country were ecstatic about. So, welcome to Prime Ministership, Mr. Trudeau.

As an Anishinaabe person living and working in his Traditional territory, I had to make a very hard decision the other day—to vote or not to vote. In the end, I did, and not just because I wanted the selfie for Instagram. I had a deep-seated fear that Stephen Harper would find his way back into power. I have a hunch he's in for a big pay raise chumping around for oil companies, but I was scared none the less. He had stolen one election, what's a second one?

In February 2015, I interviewed NDP MP Romeo Saganash for my podcast, Red Man Laughing, and I challenged him to convince me to vote in the federal election. I identify as Anishinaabe, not Canadian. I believe in Indigenous Nationhood. My work is centered on my peoples and what's important to us. I'm also a stubborn, pretty angry dude. I figured there was no way I would be convinced. Romeo asked me one question that day. He asked, "What will your community, your Nation, and this country look like in 2019 with four more years of Harper?" Not only could I not answer because I'd never thought of this before, but I also couldn't answer because an evil ghost—you know the one, from the Scooby Doo cartoons—climbed up my asshole and shook me to the core. I was sold.


Not everyone was sold, however. I hang with a pretty diverse group of NDN's. From the Indigenous artists, academics, and grassroots people I run with, they knew better—politicians change every couple of years, but bureaucracies do not. The force of capitalism has been felt in Indigenous communities for a few hundred years. Voting in a new guy in a different-colored tie wouldn't give us the change we're actually seeking in our communities.


There is an idea that we are entering a new era, a time we've never seen before. We are entering an era of reconciliation. Is Canada, as a government, and are Canadian citizens, ready to listen to Indigenous communities? Is balance being restored in this relationship? Are we witnessing history? Are we entering a time in which Indigenous collective rights will be respected? Are we entering a time when Indigenous leadership is free to work under the spirit of treaty enforcement to engage Canada and its responsibilities in this sometimes very rocky relationship? I doubt it. Or, to be fair, I don't know—but we're likely a few decades away from realizing true systemic change (if that's what we're working towards), if there is any change coming.

On the heels of this newfound push towards reconciliation was the Indigenous Vote movement. The Indigenous vote became a major movement in urban centers, town sites, and First Nation communities alike. Organizing, canvassing, and even running in this election became a normal conversation with friends.


It's clear that policy and law have giant impacts on Indigenous peoples in Canada—Harper knocked the shit out of us for nearly ten years. I have no interest in working for Trudeau of the Liberal Party of Canada, but as I'm committed to the health and well being of my community, and he says he's down with a NEW way forward, I figured I'd throw out a few thoughts on why/how he might fail/succeed.

Still from 'Searchers - Highway of Tears'

Missing and murdered indigenous women

On the ground, in the communities, there is a divide here. Many believe an inquiry is necessary. Many don't believe an inquiry is necessary. A good start would be to reinstate funding for organizations and non-profits that work with families and grassroots communities around this issue. There is a large body of work that dates back 30 years or more around this issue in our communities—allow them to continue their important work.

If an inquiry is going to be held, do not put stakeholders (Assembly of First Nations, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women's Association of Canada, Metis Nation of Ontario) above family members and grassroots and frontline workers, who have committed decades to the issue. THESE ARE YOUR EXPERTS. These are the voices that need to be heard FIRST.

Read more: The TRC Report Is Not Only a History of Residential Schools, but a History of Canada


In 2015, the TRC completed its mandate and gave Canada a solid humbling—this country has work to do. There are 94 Calls To Action that government, universities, communities, and Canadians have to wrap their heads around—good thing the TRC has done all the heavy lifting here. In June, the Liberal Party called on the government to implement each and every one of the calls to action. Woof.

The TRC has called for the core of the reconciliation movement to build on United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Harper government would not touch this with a stick, but Trudeau has mentioned that he will implement UNDRIP as a priority for his government.


Here's where things get scary for Canada—implementing UNDRIP would mean tearing into the constitution (uh oh); allowing Indigenous peoples to have control over the types of development that happen in their territories (oh shit); finally having Indian control of Indian education (high five, Harold Cardinal and team, finally); and essentially moving to a system that allows for self-determining, self-governed peoples. Take a deep breath. This is nuanced and a giant undertaking—so giant, in fact, that there would be no end to this paragraph (and I was only given 1,000 words to write).


There are more children in care today than there were at the height of Indian Residential Schools. This is Canada's national shame. A complete overhaul of the CFS system is needed. The TRC has called on the government to carefully look at the intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools when considering the changes needed to support families on a go-forward basis.

The state of child welfare in this country is a hidden shame. Those in this system are trapped in it in perpetuity—supports, programs, mentoring, and Indigenous community control of its child welfare system are all integral.


There is no doubt the world is changing around us. Technology and all of its comforts are providing new problems for governments. Terrorism and its tactics are changing (maybe) and that has governments worried, rightfully so.

C-51 is a broad, wide, sweeping piece of legislation that could potentially target Indigenous peoples and others who stand for environmental protections, clean water, and a healthy Mother Earth. We, Indigenous peoples, stand in the way of development via that pesky little thing called free, prior, and informed consent. Time and time again corporations and government do everything they can to work around us. We end up in court, we win, they lose.


Don't do that shit.

Turtle Island is the name by which many First Nations refer to what is typically (by white people, at least) called North America. Photo via Flickr user Gerry Thomasen


OK. I think you understand what you've agreed to here. Nation-to-Nation, as per the spirit of the pre-Confederation treaties, the numbered treaties, AND the modern-day treaties, is a BIG commitment. It actually means ditching the spirit of terra nullius and the Doctrine of Discovery in which Canadian governments (including many, many, many Liberal governments) have operated, and working with Nations across Turtle Island on a new framework.

Anything short of this would NOT be a Nation-to-Nation framework. The danger of co-opting buzzwords and present-day Indigenous concepts is a real concern here—so let's be clear on what we mean when we are talking about Nation-to-Nation.

We'd have to put the Indian Act on the table for dismantling (eventually), treaties would have to be fully realized to settle claims to land, solve Indigenous governance issues, and create economic certainty for communities and and and. You see. This is huge. Not impossible, just huge.


On average, Indigenous children and youth being educated on reserves are funded $3,000 less, yearly, per child than children going to provincially-run public schools. Youth across Canada are still being shipped off to far-away schools, curricula are steeped in colonial thought and process, and Indigenous ways of learning and teaching (land-based education and alternative education programs are doing incredible things across this country) aren't respected as viable options to mainstream educations.

Funding is crucial, but maybe more important is an open communication process with communities when it comes to fixing the education system for Indigenous learners. Talk with teachers and learners on reserves and in communities. Again, these are your experts. They know what's broken, what needs to be fixed, and how to fix it.


First Nation schools should reflect their community, languages, cultures, and unique place in the Indigenous paradigm to provide a safe and inclusive place for learners.

VICE Canada Reports — Canada's Waterless Communities: Neskantaga


I'm not even going to write anything here. What can be said? Get this done. There are no challenges too big to not get this done. Just. Fucking. Do it.


The argument of market-based housing and housing as a treaty right has got to stop. Housing on First Nations communities is a right that cannot be argued by government. Adequate funding for housing must flow in order to get proper housing for those most in need.

A good place to start here might be a national roundtable on Indigenous housing. Some communities are getting this right—a group of First Nations in Manitoba built their own sawmill, cut and used their own tree resources, and built homes for community members (of course, the government has tried to put a stop to this practice as land in question is embroiled in a land claim).

In short, there are solutions to the housing crisis in First Nation communities. Once again, the solutions are in the communities. The needs of those who are couch-surfing or dying in tar-paper shacks must be heard, and a process needs to be built in order for this to happen.

So let me just say, Prime Minister Trudeau, that many of us, for the first time in our lives, participated in the Canadian democratic process. Many elders and community members I spoke with did so in good faith as treaty partners and as people with great interest in witnessing the revitalization of Indigenous communities in Canada. We are in a time we have never witnessed before. There are leaders at the table who have solutions, communities that are ready to take control of their lives, and an engaged and focused indigenous youth community that is depending on you working with us to create the pathway forward we were promised upon Confederation. When you looked into the eyes of residential school survivors, I hope you're aware of what you promised to do.

Best of luck, Prime Minister Trudeau. Don't fuck this up.

Follow Ryan McMahon on Twitter.