I Cannot Vote: Voting Extinguishes Our Nationhood

Three Part Series: Part I – Tradition; Part II – History and the Law; and Part III – The Future.
Part II – History and the Law.

The lessons of history tell me that voting hasn’t and won’t work to improve the situation of my people.

Wholesale support for Western governments has never really worked out favorably for the people Indigenous to Turtle Island. Voting is a voluntary way of endorsing the Western system by participating in their process and takes us one step closer to extinguishing our own ways.

Most recently the band council system and the AFN in the Corporation of Canada are failed schemes backed by the Canadian government on the foundation of the racist Indian Act policy. The lens of presentism notwithstanding, it is not hard to go back to find how the cruel Doctrine of Discovery or how the racist Indian Act policy were established and in many ways expedited by the historical goodwill of the original people of Turtle Island. Whether it is the 60’s scoop, residential schools, or the enfranchisement laws it has been a modern aim and objective of the Canadian government to assimilate Native people “for their own good.”

Our people have fought against indeterminable odds to preserve as much of our traditional ways as possible. In particular the traditional government of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – the oldest participatory democracy in the world – has never completely disbanded, we have never been defeated openly in the field of battle, we have never been conquered and we have never surrendered.

The request that the Haudenosaunee government makes of it’s people is that they do not vote in the Canadian and American systems because it is a key step in the extinguishing of our ways.

Russ Diabo reminds us we have the international right of self-determination as Indigenous peoples. Pam Palmater has explained that Indigenous nations must assert, live, and defend our sovereignty, jurisdiction, and right of self-determination.

Our ways stem from being separate from the setter governments, not being a part of them as per some fundamental treaties such as the Two Row Wampum. Native people should heed the lessons of history and be advised that no law, Western or otherwise, allows for Nation to Nation rights among citizens of a given nation to said nation. On it’s simplest level voting is the voluntary surrender of our internationally protected ways and independence.

The key to keeping our traditional ways is to exercise them in traditional ways.

A good example that most Haudenosaunee people in modern times are aware of is the Jay Treaty. Canada does not recognize this treaty and the US does. Regardless of the view of either country Native Americans didn’t draw that line and erect that border, so Native people practice the right of free passage across the border each year and for every year for almost the last 100 years and for all the days in between.

“The Jay Treaty of 1794 between the United States and Great Britain had, in Article 3, given Indians the right to cross the border with their own goods at any time. Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent of 1814, which closed the War of 1812, restored these rights to us. The Immigration Act of 1924 had thus deprived us of our rights and even more, for long before the white man came to our country, we passed freely over this land…it is an injustice to separate families and impose restrictions upon us, the original North Americans, who were once a free people and wish to remain free.” said Clinton Rickard in Fighting Tuscarora.

The Immigration Act and the Canadian practice of enfranchisement were direct attempts at absorbing Native people into citizenship. The results proved fatal in 1925 when David Otter, who was treating Deskaheh from Six Nations (on the settler Canadian side), was not allowed to freely travel to Rickard’s home in Tuscarora (on the settler US side) where Deskaheh was staying. Non-native doctors continued to be unsuccessful in their treatment of the great chief Deskaheh and without the traditional medicine of his people he passed away on the evening of June 27th, 1925. The restriction of one of our basics rights was deadly in this instance.

This grave injustice was a major factor leading to the formation of the Indian Defense League of America which fought vigorously to protect our ways and within 3 years the Immigration Act was ruled to no longer apply to the original people of Turtle Island by US legislators. In celebration of this progress a bordercrossing was held shortly after the laws were changed. Every year the right of free-passage across the lines they put through our territory is celebrated when Native people cross the border and hold a Celebration with our people and our allies on alternating sides of the imaginary line.

Canada still resists honouring the Jay Treaty, but is our way as Ukwehu·wé to practice free-crossing of the border as this way precedes any Canadian law and has since been affirmed by treaties with the Crown and with the United States. The key to keeping our ways is to exercise those ways as is demonstrated by all the effort and sacrifice that goes into the annual bordercrossing.

Similarly instead of researching which major political party will harm Native people the least and then convincing your friends to try to support your position, wouldn’t it benefit our people more to take that time and effort and learn a teaching, a song, self-educate on an important issue and potential solution,or to spend time with one of our elders?

I commend the Elijah Harper’s and Perry Belegarde’s of the world because I have seen the toll leadership of our people takes on a person but I cannot support their efforts to #CloseTheGap. The truth is that we have been working to close the gap with the Canadian and American governments for centuries and they are only a few decades in.

What could Canada do close that gap and to earn the votes of First Nations people?

Implement the findings of the Truth (no Justice?) and Reconciliation commission. Consider policy that reflects the great work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People. Spending against First Nations is the highest legal cost to the government of Canada, maybe the policy makers could just listen to Cindy Blackstock instead? Is it right that there is an annual 2% cap on the growth of spending for First Nations programming (brought in by the Liberals) but the population grows 4% annually? Stop neo-liberal austerity based financial systems that are widening the poverty gap and supported by all three parties in some form or another. Talk about the non-issues that are too scary to talk about. DO SOMETHING!

If they were saying that there was a major policy shift on the horizon in exchange for joining their system I could see the reasoning behind supporting them, but I don’t see anything tangible at all on the table to entice these votes. I just see business as usual.

Will voting by Natives be a small step in the right direction? I just can’t see it and I have never seen it.

I am not looking to take a small step in the right direction, I am looking to hold my ground before there is nothing left.