During the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly in Montreal this month, there was a call for aboriginals to work for change in government through active participation in the October election. That might seem like a no-brainer, but a prominent and influential attendee dismissed voting as participation in a system that was part of the “genocide” native Canadians experienced.
Though my background is not in Aboriginal affairs, I can posit this: no settling, no homesteading, and no civilizing of the wild, by any peoples, happened apart from women being there. Regardless of what people arrived first, they first came from women. And debating the value of voting and participating in politics from the point of view of a woman, I am qualified to do.
Regena Crowchild is a councilor with Alberta’s Tsuu T’ina Nation. She puzzles me. She has described the right to vote in Canada in about as negative a light as there is. Rather than encouraging informed and free voting, she says that “If we join Canada in their election system, that’s a part of genocide.” In her words, they would use “an alien government’s polling station.”
Being cavalier about the right to vote denigrates what women have achieved. Women won the right to vote, as well as the right to be recognized in the parliaments of Britain and Canada. We went on to win the right to be treated fairly in law, as it was being written by members of parliament and senators. From aliens to allies in the political landscape, women are now exercising their rights and responsibilities.
The process of creating laws, rights, and reasonable limits has been defended in wars, court rooms, and the media. It has depended on robust debate and continued participation from the citizens. Indeed, when social agendas have interrupted or derailed Parliament’s work toward justice, it has required even more participation from Canadians, not less.
Through the process of electing representatives, power is held in check, and accountability of Parliament is maintained. It is far from perfect. No human institution is without imperfection. So at times, unjust laws can be met with peaceful civil disobedience.
As a woman with pro-life values, when the politics of abortion became the fulcrum of radical feminism, I was one of many women across the country who challenged that position in the ballot box. Some women formed political organizations, while others participated in those organizations. We challenged the narrow view that the freedom to engage in the social and economic well-being of Canada was attained through freedom from child-bearing and child-rearing.
In our vigilance, we formed a voting block that still exists. The pro-life movement was and is sustained by women (and men) who recognize the dignity of the unborn child. This work will not disappear from the political landscape until that dignity is recognized through legislation — just as it was for women, for Afro-Americans, and for Jews.
The cavalier dismissal of participating in this powerful mechanism of social change rings hollow. Despite failures along the way, the perseverance of Canadian voters has worked for almost 150 years to protect the vulnerable throughout our history by holding Parliament accountable.