Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why I Don't Vote

I originally wrote this during the last federal election. I am republishing it now because I believe my arguements apply to all settler elections.

I will not be participating in today's election and I think it is important to explain why. To be clear I respect everyone's right to an opinion. My views are mine alone and I wish only to share them so that you understand where I am coming from.

As an Indigenous person descendent from Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian peoples, I truly believe that our territories are wrongfully occupied. Although many of our people have come to accept themselves as British Columbians or Canadians, we are a displaced and marginalized people under colonial control. I expect the newcomers to forget their imperial legacy for it is not truthfully taught in the schools, but I would hope our own people would not forget. Because I believe that the lands and waters of our Ha'wiih have been wrongfully usurped I cannot in good conscience lend further legitimacy to the present neo-colonial governments by voting.

Life is full of contradictions and many of us have accepted, both wittingly and unwittingly, the entrapments of colonialism and assimilation. I drive a car, I have to eat, I even have a passport that swears I am Canadian, but in my heart I am Nuu-chah-nulth, son of Wickaninnish, nephew of Umeek and 1st cousin (brother) of A-in-chut, of the house of Tlakishpilth of Ahousaht. I also descend from the house of Nishaywas, of the Kitselas with relations amongst many of the Tsimshian nations. I believe these are real. I believe they are as real as we make them. In my mind I cannot be true to both (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) at the same time. I cannot actively legitimize the colonial government by such a fundamental, democratic act as voting in their elections, when our own governments are ignored.

The collective legacies of Canada and BC, vis-à-vis Indigenous people, exemplify nothing but dishonour and disrespect. Early on, the oppression was fairly direct. Over time their methods became more refined and “civilized” but no less deadly. Many of our parents' generation were openly ashamed of being Indian. I have heard the stories of my aunts and uncles, their experiences in school and such. Despite all that, we have not disappeared nor forgotten who we are. Some of our people still remember. While that flicker of knowledge exists, I will do all I can to stoke it, to encourage it and defend it from those who would rather we just disappear.

We have been forced and later accepted many aspects of the settler society, but it does not always have to be this way. The younger generation while somewhat removed from our teachings is also a generation removed from the residential school experience. Many of us do not want to assimilate, or fit in, or be equal. We merely want to be who we are. We recognize the damage it is causing to take on too much of the settler's ways. We do not need to catch up, or compete or be equal. We need only to stand up and take our place of leadership and show the rest of the world how to live right with the earth and the animals.

I do not vote because no non-Indigenous system or politician can do any of those things for me. I do not vote because that neo-colonial system still fights and resists our way of life. I do not vote because I would rather accept my responsibilities as a Nuu-chah-nulth/Tsimshian man than continue to perpetuate the myth that I am Canadian.

Provincially the Socreds denied our rights, the NDP denied our rights and the Liberals have denied our rights. It has made little difference which party was in power. All governments have been beholden to the corporations and the people who work for them. Their mandate has always been to generate wealth from our lands. In fact, I often think that the NDP have been the most dangerous of all, for they led many of our people to believe that they were our friends. Many of our people and leaders bought the line that the NDP cared about Indigenous people enough to deal with us honourably. Under the BC Treaty Process, the NDP were never prepared to acknowledge more than 4-8% of our lands as ours. When push came to shove, the right thing to do was displaced by the practical thing to do.

At least with a neo-conservative government, you have a little better idea of where they stand and what their priorities are. To the Liberals, Indigenous rights and issues are merely an annoyance, in the way, and in some cases, the "cost of doing business." I am by no means a supporter of the Liberals; I just feel they are more honest about their greed than the NDP.

Either way, I feel it makes little difference. If we truly appreciate where it is that we want to go as Indigenous people, we will realize that what matters more is the time, energy and brainpower we pour into revitalizing our own independent communities. What little if any difference that could be made "from inside the system" pales in comparison to the strides we could make if we focused all of our energies into rebuilding our communities free of government funding and dependence.

I appreciate the time to share some of my thoughts. I felt it was important for you to hear my rationale and not to mistake my refusal to participate as simply matters of negativism or apathy. Power to our people!


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