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Urban aboriginal voters wielding growing political clout, says DNFC Executive Director
By Samantha Hawkins
The Dryden Native Friendship Centre (DNFC) is hosting an open electoral candidates meet and greet on October 16 from 6 – 8 p.m. (74 Queen St). This evening will provide 12 of the 14 candidates with a chance to introduce themselves to the voting public says DNFC Executive Director, Sally Ledger.
“So we’re really excited that we’ve got 12 candidates, 12 out of the 14, who are going to be here, we’ll do an informal meet and greet and have some tea and bannock out, we’ll give each candidate 3 to 5 minutes to introduce themselves and their portfolio and then basically it will be just a social mingle.”
A social mingle, with a higher purpose perhaps, the evening is meant not only to introduce the DNFC’s voting members to the candidates, and to encourage aboriginal voter turn out, but also to introduce the candidates to the DNFC, as some of them have yet to even visit the centre and going forward, says Ledger, relationship building will be critical.
“We know moving forward with the City that partnerships are going to be very important. We know that the City is in financial restraints. We are quite astute that when it comes to cutting costs and cutting resources that quite often it’s the most vulnerable that suffer most. That’s what we want our councilors to understand, the services that we’re providing here, a lot of it is for the poverty people and those most in need, and our council needs to understand that because the more they cut the services and the more financial hardship the City feels, those most in need are going to feel it the most and that means the demand for our services are going to increase. So there has to be a way for the city to work with the not for profit social services industries so that when they’re going to create a gap, we’re prepared to fill that gap.”
Heather Gardner, DNFC Career Developer, points out that according to Statistics Canada (who recently also visited the centre) the aboriginal population that they serve is pretty significant.
“According to statistics Canada the estimated average aboriginal population in Dryden is 15%, which is a pretty significant amount when that’s 11,000 people. Of that I believe 68% of those people are eligible voters in the municipal election so around approximately 790 voters. With the number of aboriginals that utilize the services of the Friendship Centre, I think it is very important for the candidates to get to know our community base, so this session serves as a great opportunity for them.”
If the aboriginal population in Dryden utilized their vote and their voice to make an educated decision on Election Day, Ledger is certain that the numbers would speak for themselves.
“If we look at the last elections and voting percentages we know that if we could influence and convince our aboriginal people to get out and vote in high numbers that we can significantly influence the results, we know we can. If we can convince our people that their voice counts and that these people actually care about their voice.”
A number of groups have stepped forward to help encourage voter turn out, with Dryden Area Anti Racism Network (DAARN) hosting an informative lunch, prepared by Dryden Police Services Kevin Hildebrandt and his co-op students. Together they fed spaghetti to 98 people and found that 50 to 60 of them had no idea who the candidates were. Working with Gardner, DAARN helped put together a voters information package for people to learn how to vote and provide the DNFC with an application to amend the voter’s list after realizing the majority of DNFC clientele were not registered voters.
While hoping to get aboriginal community members and agency leaders out to this event, Ledger reminds everyone that the DNFC does not just support the aboriginal population. While the majority of their programming is focused on off-reserve aboriginal support, their ‘soft services’ support around 300 people or more every month, of which 49 per cent are First Nation, 10 per cent Metis and 16 per cent non-aboriginal.
Anyone interested in learning more about the candidates is welcome to join the discussion October 16.