In Canada’s general election this week a record 10 members of Canada’s aboriginal community were elected to Parliament. This is up from seven in the 2011 elections. This is a great triumph for the aboriginal community which largely believes it was neglected during almost 10 years of Conservative rule.
In the election 54 First Nations candidates ran for office. Even so, indigenous people will still only occupy 3 percent of the 338 seats in Canada’s House of Commons. According to Statistics Canada, a government agency that collects census data, indigenous peoples make up 4.3 percent of Canada’s population.
The majority of seats in Parliament were won by New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party. With this win, Trudeau put an end to the reign of Conservative leader Stephen Harper, which jad lasted for more than nine years. Eight of the 18 aboriginal candidates who ran for the Liberals won seats.
In his campaign Trudeau promised that more respect will be given to Canada's indigenous people. He also promised to involve them in consultation, grant improved language rights, launch a national search into the missing and murdered indigenous women, and increase money for education. He also promised to participate in future meetings of the Assembly of First Nations.
Aboriginal chiefs have complained about insufficient money for tribal education, inadequate conditions on reservesations, having to endure difficult processes in the settling of land claims and the government’s inability to carry out an inquiry into the great number of murdered and missing aboriginal women. They also complained of Harper’s hesitance to meet with communities of indigenous people to discuss all of these matters.
There has been a great increase in the number of young indigenous people calling for change because of their anger concerning their comparatively poor living standards to those of the rest of Canada.
Voters elected Dan Vandal as Liberal member of Parliament in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, Manitoba. He commended voters for bringing a record high number of indigenous people to office.
"First Nations issues will now come to the forefront in the House of Commons," he said. "Whether it's murdered and missing indigenous women or education on reserves, a resolution for Metis land claim issues, we're going to get a higher profile and hopefully a resolution of those issues. My role is going to be to speak loudly for the people of my community."
According to Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson the number of aboriginal voters thought to have gone to the polls in northern Manitoba alone is said to be more than 11,000.
Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said that extra ballots had to be brought in because there was such a big turnout for this election that ballots were running out.
"Running out of ballots hasn't happened before," said Bellegarde. "I can tell you from talking to chiefs across Canada, there was an excitement, an awareness about this election. Aboriginal people were lined up in band offices and community centers to vote. People were engaged like never before."
The increase in the number of aboriginal voters may be for a number of reasons. Bellegarde said that some aboriginal chiefs highly encouraged residents to go to polling stations. A ‘’Rock the Vote’’ campaign was also started on social media by community members in order to encourage young people to vote in the east and mid-west provinces of Canada.
The main motivation for many was removing Harper from office.
"I voted to get Harper out," said 35-year old Vancouver resident Lorelei Williams. "We needed a government who cared about our indigenous people and both the NDP and Liberals cared about us."
Back in 2008, Harper apologised in Parliament for one of the darkest periods in the history of Canada - which lasted from the 19th century until the 1970s - when more than 150,000 aboriginal children were forced to attend Christian schools to strip them of their cultures and languages where they were frequently abused.