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Election Matters: On Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis

The Assembly of First Nations believes all Aboriginal-Canadians can sway the vote in as many as 51 ridings. But getting First Nations people out to vote has been a challenge. Vassy Kapelos visited Maskwacis, near Edmonton, to meet some powerful advocates for change.

MASKWACIS, ALBERTA — The skate park in Ermineskin Cree Nation is packed on a Monday after school. Graffiti covers the concrete bowl, but it is a star attraction on this reserve.

Teenagers come here to hang out, show off a bit for their friends and talk.

On this Monday, they’re talking about the election.

Eighteen-year-old Isabelle Threefingers will vote for the first time Oct. 19.

“I want change in our communities,” Threefingers said. “I just want a better future for future generations.”

She isn’t alone. Every resident Global News spoke with in the community, an hour south of Edmonton, is planning on voting in the election and is determined to have their voices heard.

READ MORE: Liberals pull ahead of NDP, as support in Ontario grows: Ipsos poll

Ermeskin Cree Nation is one of four reserves that make up the Maskwacis community, formerly known as Hobbema.

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Poverty and crime are major issues for the community of about 13,000 people. It’s estimated seven of every 10 people are unemployed — something Threefingers thinks candidates should see for themselves.

“I think that they should come to our reserves and see for ourselves what kind of poverty we’re in,” she said.

WATCH: Voters in Maskwacis prepare to head to the polls

Fifty-one swing ridings where the Aboriginal vote could decide a majority or minority government have been identified by the Assembly of First Nations.

READ MORE: AFN Chief Bellegarde will vote for first time in a federal election

In past elections, turnout on reserves was at least fifteen points lower than the general population.

Worried the gap could grow as a result of new electoral laws, Elections Canada has budgeted half a million dollars to help get out the Aboriginal vote.

Sam Minde, CEO of Ermeskine’s corporate arm, the Neyaskweyak Group of Companies Inc., hasn’t decided who he’ll vote for and is keeping an open mind.

Minde hopes what he calls “First Nations’ issues” factor into the campaign.

“I’d like to think they’ll talk about missing and murdered women, resource sharing and promoting reconciliation between our communities,” Minde said. “I think people want to have a voice and create the change they want to see.”

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WATCH: Ermineskin Cree Nation voters share their opinions 

Jeremy Cutarn, 33, was born and raised in Maskwacis. He’s growing frustrated with the long list of promises from each political party.

“They give you a good story but after awhile, they don’t come through with it,” Cutarn said. “I’m just weighing out my options and seeing who I’m going to vote for.”

He wants to hear more about the issues that matter to his community.

“They’re [politicians] just worried about deficits and the economy and that kind of stuff,” Cutarn said. “They’re not trying to address the real situation that’s happening on every reserve.”

READ MORE: RCMP report on missing, murdered aboriginal women looks at family violence

Parties have made promises targeting First Nations communities.

Among them, the NDP will call an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the Liberals will invest in Aboriginal education and Conservatives will build and repair schools on reserves.

Threefingers said she’s listening to it all and hopes others are inspired by her determination to cast a ballot.

“I want to influence anyone over eighteen to vote. It all has to happen now or it will be too late.”

What the parties are promising

Conservatives (directed us to the budget):

  • Investing $30.3 million over five years for the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Regime.
  • Providing $200 million over five years, starting in 2015-16, to improve First Nations education.
  • Providing $12 million over three years to inspire to provide post-secondary scholarships and bursaries for First Nations and Inuit students.
  • Investing $248.5 million over five years in Aboriginal labour market programming.
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NDP:

  • Working with remote communities to improve housing
  • Mental Health innovation Fund – emphasis on First Nations
  • Launch an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women in first 100 days/national action plan on violence against women
  • Create a cabinet-level committee dedicated to making progress on Indigenous issues

Liberals:

  • Establish a Federal Reconciliation Framework, created in full partnership with First Nations
  • Conduct a full review of the legislation unilaterally imposed on First Nations by the federal government
  • Make an initial, and immediate new investment of $2.6 billion in core First Nations K-12 education over the next four years, as well as $500 million in new funding over the next three years for First Nations education infrastructure.
  • Immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.