May 15, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Bloc leaves aboriginal voters on sidelines (Montreal Gazette)

4 min read

Ren Kistabish has a quick answer when asked what’s going to happen on May 2: “There’s going to be a fight.”

Born in Amos, Kistabish jokingly calls himself an Algocree – a nod to his Cree and Algonquin heritage. Now he lives in Val d’Or, a hub for aboriginal people like himself who love the outdoors but are old enough to appreciate the services of a regional centre.

It doesn’t take much to get him going on his favourite topics.

Like the secret of hunting for bear – “just wait there and he’ll come to you” – or his views on the nonsense of the national gun registry – “a big waste of money.”

And then there’s politics, which he follows religiously, even though he doesn’t think much of the candidates – and doesn’t plan to vote.

So when Bloc Qubcois leader Gilles Duceppe paid a visit to the Native Friendship Centre in Val d’Or the other day, Kistabish was happy to stay back, holding court in the cafeteria.

Not that Kistabish or most of the other aboriginal people at the centre that morning were asked to join in.

During Duceppe’s campaign swings around the province, most events are by-invitationonly, brief photo ops aimed at giving the television crews the images they need without involving too much mingling with the public.

Not that there have been many well-wishers standing on the sidelines, but there didn’t seem to be much effort put into finding them either.

In the crucial third week of the campaign, with a succession of public opinion polls showing the Bloc in a threeway race with the Conservatives and the New Democrats, Duceppe divided his time between television and radio interviews and preaching to the converted at party functions.

When Duceppe visited a CEGEP in St. Hyacinthe, the Bloc leader spent nearly all his time at a textile workshop looking at machinery. Only by chance did he meet up with a handful of students in the corridor on the way out.

Duceppe’s visit to Val d’Or was designed to shore up support in the riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou. At 843,721 square kilometres, it is Quebec’s largest federal district. But the Bloc’s prospects don’t look good this time around. The New Democratic Party candidate is well-known Cree leader and lawyer Romeo Saganash. Should he win, he’d be the first aboriginal person to represent a region which is home to 16,000 Cree and 11,000 Inuit.

And it really didn’t help when the Bloc candidate, Yvon Lvesque, said he didn’t expect Saganash to do well because a lot of people wouldn’t want to vote for a native person.

Lvesque apologized, but Duceppe’s whistle-stop visit was obviously intended to help mend fences.

“For me, it would be unheard of to visit a city like Val d’Or without meeting with people from the first nations,” Duceppe told reporters.

And there were nice words about how aboriginal people are part of the fabric of Quebec.

“I have always said we are Quebecers without exception and in the Quebec nation, there are the 10 first nations.”

Yet except for a quick tour around the centre and a private meeting with community leaders, the Bloc didn’t make much effort to talk to the seniors gathered in the TV room or the young people huddled around table in the caf.

Certainly nothing to persuade Kistabish or others on hand to change their minds.

“I just hope Romeo wins,” one woman said gleefully.

“I vote Liberal,” said Guillaume Diamond, although he confessed he’s not sure who is running for the Liberals.

“That one? No, he only speaks French,” Kistabish, who speaks fluent English, French and Cree, said of Duceppe, who also speaks English.

Kistabish said he wasn’t all that bothered by Lvesque’s remarks. He just doesn’t trust politicians.

If it’s any comfort to Duceppe, who has been campaigning vigorously to make sure the Conservatives don’t win a majority, Kistabish doesn’t have much use for Stephen Harper either.

“They are all in the same boat. He’s a liar. The big bosses everywhere – federal, Bloc, NDP, they are all liars. Promises, promises. No good. I don’t believe any of it.

“If it’s an aboriginal, a bloquiste, a federalist, it’s all the same.

“We have had it, someone who talks well, you vote for them and nothing changes. It’s all promises.”

Kistabish was asked whether he thinks we’d be better without any government at all?

“We don’t know, do we?”

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Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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