First Nations political power growing

The 2011 census will likely show North Coast as the first riding in British Columbia with a majority aboriginal population. The same census will likely show six ridings whose population is more than 20 percent aboriginal, up from two in 2001. And that rising population means First Nations will be seeking more political power. A sign of this is school trustee and Ktunaxa Nation member Troy Hunter‘s recent announcement that he would like to create a First Nations political party. But this isn’t the first time a such an entity has existed in this province.

In early 2001, Don Moses – who, like Mr. Hunter, is from Merritt – founded the All Nations Party and ran six candidates in the 2001 election. Among them – former Haisla Chief and First Nations Summit executive Gerard Amos. But none of the six were successful at the ballot box. Indeed, in the entire history of British Columbia, there have been only three MLAs of publicly identified aboriginal or Metis descent:

* Nisga’a leader Frank Calder, who won office in 1949 – the first year First Nations people were allowed to vote provincially after losing the franchise in 1874. He served in that office until 1979, interrupted by a defeat during the 1956 election;

* Larry Guno, who won Atlin for the New Democrats in 1986 and served one term in the legislature; and

* outgoing New Democrat leader Carole James, who is serving in her second term in the legislature.

The low number is surprising given the high aboriginal population in a number of provincial ridings.

But as that population continues to rise, it’s possible First Nations may abandon the increasingly urban New Democrats – whom they have traditionally voted for – in favour of candidates who can better speak for themselves and the people of rural British Columbia.

That would be bad news for whoever succeeds Ms. James as leader of the opposition – especially since her party may very well have lost the 1996 election were it not for the aboriginal vote. But it could good news Mr. Hunter and his plans for a First Peoples Political Party.

Bernard von Schulmann is a policy and land use consultant. In 1999, he predicted “the New Democratic Party is looking at four safe seats” in the 2001 election. “A complete shutout is not an impossibility.” In 2005, he was the campaign coordinator for Yes for BC-STV. Mr. Schulmann blogs at BC Iconoclast. He is presently a member of the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives, as well as being a pacifist Quaker.

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