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Indigenous candidates making history, shaping the future

Dallas Smith: The good news is this election has more Indigenous candidates than ever. The better news is they’re split across party lines.
The idea is more representation inside. (kristof lauwers /

This coming election boasts a record 41 First Nations/Métis Candidates vying for 338 seats representing the 4 main parties and 1 Independent (15 Liberals, 15 NDP, 5 Greens, 5 CPC, and Jody Wilson-Raybould, respectively).

I am overjoyed to see this progress.

Almost all parties are starting to recruit viable First Nations/Métis people to carry their banner, and work towards a majority in the House of Commons. Indigenous people make up roughly 4% of the population of Canada; these numbers are a great step towards showing Indigenous people belong in mainstream politics and need/should have a say outside of the reservation.

Some ridings have more than one. Three are squaring off in Nunavut. Three different ridings in Manitoba have multiple Indigenous candidates, and one in BC.  Nanaimo-Ladysmith will see a rematch between Michelle Corfield and Bob Chamberlain, who both competed in the recent byelection won by the Greens’ Paul Manly.

While I wish all 41 the best of luck, it’s the 9 Indigenous candidates in 8 ridings in BC that I will be keeping my good eye on. BC has 42 seats, and is, by far, the most complicated when it comes to issues that impact First Nations.

Knowing most of the nine, I am well aware of the amazing skillsets they bring to the table – as well as some of the complications and challenges facing them.

"I'll be keeping my good eye on the 9 Indigenous candidates in 8 ridings in  BC."

Some of those challenges will be different based on the party they’re representing, but some of them will affect each of them the same.

Racism/Ignorance is still by far the biggest challenge they will face. Sadly, there is still a percentage of the population that perceives First Nations as lesser Canadians because of antiquated notions and misconceptions about Aboriginal Rights and Title, and Canada’s taxation laws.

Fundraising is a challenge for everyone seeking public office, but is compounded by the general lack of wealth in most First Nations communities.

Another complication is perception. For an Indigenous candidate to be “viable” to the general public, they would likely have come to some form of agreement with a government, major industry or environmental issue, that makes them acceptable or notable in the public eye.

That comes with double-edged ramifications from both native and non-native communities.

On some First Nations reservations, there are some feelings that candidate has sold out or has been compromised. Some fear that supporting a candidate will bring negative connotations if that person loses; the opposite is a fear of the non-native community that, regardless of the party, that candidate will only champion First Nations issues and not the riding as a whole.

"Some fear that supporting a candidate will bring negative connotations if they lose."

Another challenge for all of them (except Wilson-Raybould) is their party’s platform.

Platforms are drawn up in a war room. While all the major parties wax poetically about Reconciliation and First Nations issues, there’s no silver bullet. Sometimes the generalities can handcuff an Indigenous candidate who isn’t likely to go off script and ire HQ.

With all that said, more and more Indigenous leaders across the country are leading by example. Whether it’s championing or building economic and social development, advocating for culture, environmental protection, or fighting for families – they’re all doing it with a willingness to collaborate.

Using their experience, education, and strength from their cultural identity, these 41 Indigenous candidates – and nine in BC – are putting themselves completely out there to make their communities, regions, and ridings a better place to live.

They’re also showing future Indigenous leaders that not only do they belong in mainstream politics – they are are welcome.

Dallas Smith is the President of Nanwakolas Council, a former provincial candidate and has over 20 years experience working for First Nations with government, industry and environmental groups.