Voting is a right many Canadians take for granted, but for those on the outside looking in during band elections on Flying Dust First Nation, it’s a privilege that can only be dreamt of.
The issue of voting rights took centre stage recently at a general band meeting. Currently, 662 reserve members, almost half of their total numbers, are disqualified from voting because of their 6(2) Indian status while 695 are eligible because they’re deemed to be 6(1). However, with the number of 6(2)s rising because of residents who have decide to leave the reserve, the band is becoming at-risk of having a minority of members make decisions for the majority.
Flying Dust First Nation chief Richard Gladue noted band governments have been talking about changing the membership code for 20 years, so it shouldn’t be a surprise people are becoming more restless as inaction continues. While it’s unknown what code was used for voting prior to 1985, Flying Dust currently bases its system on the Indian Act and Bill C-31.
Bill C-31 was enacted by the federal government and introduced the idea of two categories of status Indians. Both provide full status, but the Act is used to determine whether children of a status Indian will have status or not. For example, a 6(2) is created when a 6(1) and a non-status person have a child together. If the 6(2) also has a child with a non-status person, the Indian status becomes null and void.
While the federal government believes this system is the best solution for its agenda, it has proven to be detrimental to First Nations communities. Not only does it effectively eliminate people from Canada’s native population pool, it also causes controversy and two levels of membership on Flying Dust.
It’s an interesting paradox how leadership can proclaim members treat 6(2)s the same as they treat any other band member – as long as it’s not election time. The right to vote by anyone 18 years and older is seen as the pinnacle of any modern democracy. It’s good to see the leadership of Flying Dust acknowledges this as they begin work to extend voting rights to a good chunk of their members.
One must hope, however, the amendment doesn’t get sidetracked as business continues on the reserve as normal. The prospect of being able to give a large amount of people a right to vote that was previously stripped from them should warm their hearts. The process will be a long and difficult one, but it only makes sense to make time for something that’s so important to so many people.
It’s also hard to believe an issue so important would be neglected for so long – but, then again, it’s not. Politicians, no matter what jurisdiction they represent, sometimes work for the people who have elected them to ensure they’ll get voted back in again, so spending time on an issue that might not yield those same results isn’t ideal. But, if the current chief and council are able to achieve this amendment to their membership code, it’s a move that might land them more praise than they expect.