Woman Warriors Newsletter

ReconciliACTION & Indigenous Women in Politics – Part Three

Three Female Candidates Share Their Insights From
Running In Municipal & First Nations Politics

Fostering Indigenous women leaders and building our participation in politics, and policymaking is an important form of reconciliation in Canada. According to the website Equal Voice, “the United Nations says that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed before legislatures produce public policy representing women’s concerns and before political institutions begin to change the way they do business.”[1] Currently, “women are under-represented in leadership positions in Alberta, especially on municipal councils. In the 2013 municipal elections, Albertans elected women to 490 of 1,874 positions – an average of 26 per cent.”[2] (I could not find the exact numbers of self-identified Indigenous women holding elected positions in Alberta, but I’m certain it’s not enough). I suggest that electing more Indigenous candidates, especially the most vulnerable of our population, Indigenous women, to all levels of government, is a fundamental step to enacting reconciliation.

As I stated in the first newsletter on Indigenous Women in Politics, I believe that Indigenous women have important perspectives on collective community decision-making, gender equality via matriarchal societies, and reconciliation that are needed in Canadian democracy and policy. For the past two newsletters Indigenous female candidates shared their insights from running in Alberta municipal elections: Michelle Robinson, Calgary City Council Ward 10 and Miranda Jimmy, Edmonton City Council Ward 5. I would like to dig further into the barriers that Indigenous women encounter in politics.

First, this Facebook post from our third candidate, Dolores Pahtayken that ran for 4th Vice Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations on October 26th, highlights the financial strain that politics presents for women. Her opponent, Heather Bear won by 28 votes.

“One of the harsh realities of running in this election is that it costs a lot of money. Apparently I have to book and pay for a whole hotel of rooms for people to come vote for me, and I have to give people gas money and pay for meals and solicit major funders to pay for my meeting rooms for two days.

All taken into consideration that I am a single mother of 4 children, a university student whom I have to subsidize, as well as nurture and feed my other 3 children, as well as my own community. So I have to borrow money to run and win this election? And take money from any organization of funders meaning they will expect some kind of special considerations if I win the election? Totally against my beliefs!

What happened to intent and purpose of this organization? It’s very disheartening to myself because I only have the heartfelt desire to take care of our exceptional needs people (special needs), our Elders, and children. I have no money to buy for anyone’s votes. What I have to offer is me – my passion and desire to make a difference.”

I asked both Miranda and Michelle their campaign costs and Miranda replied, “a winning Councillor campaign in Edmonton is about $80,000. I spent about $35,000,” and Michelle replied “I’ve seen campaigns in the tens of thousands. I’m not sure yet my costs but it wasn’t that much and I would be surprised if it were over $5000.”

In this Globe and Mail article, “Women should get more financial support to get into politics, minister says,” Patricia Hajdu, the Minister of Status of Women from November 2015 until January 2017, and now appointed as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour states, “Politics continues to be a rich man’s game. There is no doubt that we need to look at how we support women financially to become politically active.”

For Indigenous women the barriers extend past financial pressures into systemic privilege and affluence. Miranda Jimmy stated on her blog mirandajimmy.com on October 17th that:

“Despite a groundswell of support, despite months of hard work, despite the personal belief that I am the best person for the job, I didn’t win. This makes me sad and angry, not because I lost but because it has become clear to me that the political game was created for people like me not to win. The campaign has broken my belief in representative democracy and I will be mourning that loss for a long time.”

She wants to start a public discussion on the barriers for women like herself in politics and the advantages for others. She states these categories are separate but related:

  • Political Affiliations
  • Affluence Equating to Influence
  • Systemic White Privilege

Miranda connects reconciliation to her political campaign and loss by stating “I need to challenge the norms and shake the foundation of entitlement. Last fall at the Banff Forum, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow participant about having difficult conversations. Both of us had experience working on the cause of reconciliation and pushing this issue into places where it needs to be pushed. I had been referring to the need to create safe spaces for the difficult conversations – respectful spaces where people felt supported to share openly, free from criticism. In our interaction, my fellow Banffer challenged this notion and said we don’t need safe spaces we need brave spaces – spaces where people feel brave to share how they truly feel filled with people brave enough to listen and learn. This has stuck with me over the last year. Be brave, not safe.”

In relation to Miranda’s reconciliation bravery I had an interesting twitter conversation with Dr. Carrie Bourassa in which she tweeted to me “I heard a knowledge keeper speak today. He says there can be no reconciliation without truth. That really impacted me. Lots to think about.”

I tweeted back to Dr. Bourassa that “there’s a lot of courage involved in reconciliation. You can’t have truth without being uncomfortable. When I speak it I get backlash. Thick skin and purpose.” She replied, “Yes, so true. Because the Knowledge Keeper said that this means people will need to give up some of their power. So that makes people uncomfortable.”

Miranda faced some public backlash from her opponent calling her public truths a form of “sour grapes” and suggesting that she’s a sore loser. To connect all these insights together – we need to tell the truth about the systems that keep us oppressed. That is what Miranda wants to discuss and what I speak to every single day when I do my podcast and write this newsletter. We need more of these spaces and we need to be open to being uncomfortable and brave.

In conclusion, all three of these candidates lost, but they’ve done something much bigger – opened the door to uncomfortable truths – and begun the process of reconciliation in a system of oppression. Finally, I want everyone to reflect on this quote about reconciliation and politics from Tina Keeper, former Liberal MP. “We need to acknowledge that we’re all part of this country and that a First Nations leader can be just as effective as a mainstream Canadian in that role.”[3]

[1] Equal Voice. (2017). Fundamental Facts (The Facts, Ma’am: Facts about women in politics in Canada). Retrieved November 3, 2017 from https://www.equalvoice.ca/facts.cfm.
[2] Alberta Government. (October 4, 2017). Helping Indigenous and immigrant women in politics. Retrieved on November 3, 2017 from https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=48714103D1715-AAFB-0BA5-12208D2B5721E9C9
[3] CBC News Indigenous. (December 04, 2016). Indigenous women still face resistance, but making gains in politics. Retrieved on November 3, 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/indigenous-women-politics-1.3875301

Dr Jennifer Leason