Author: Narine, Shari
Date published: November 1, 2011
A record number of Aboriginal candidates have resulted in only a handful of Aboriginal MLAs in the Saskatchewan Legislature.
Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party were returned to power in the Nov. 7 election in a convincing win, taking 49 of 58 seats. Among the newcomers to fill those Sask Party seats are Aboriginal MLAs Roger Parent (Saskatoon Meewasin), Greg Lawrence (Moose Jaw Wakamow) and Jennifer Campeau (Saskatoon Fairview). Lawrence and Campeau won their seats in tight races. The Sask Party ran five Aboriginal candidates.
New Democratic Party incumbents Doyle Vermette (Cumberland) and Buckley Belanger (Athabasca) were the only two of the 11 Aboriginal candidates to win seats for the NDP. There had been high hopes for First Nations candidates Helen Ben (Meadow Lake) and Bernadette Gopher (Cut Knife-Turtleford), the latter endorsed by Chief Wallace Fox and council of the Onion Lake First Nation, but both lost to their Sask Party rivals by large margins. NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter was ousted from his Regina Douglas Park seat and shortly after announced his intent to resign. When the election was called, the NDP held 20 seats. They were knocked back to 9.
All 18 cabinet ministers, including Aboriginal and Metis Relations minister Ken Cheveldayoff in Saskatoon Silver Springs, were returned. Also of note, incumbent Greg Ottenbreit, of the Sask Party, won his Yorkton riding. Ottenbreit had been embroiled in controversy early in the campaign over derogatory remarks he had made about first Nations' people receiving money from revenue resource sharing.
The outcome of the election and a stronger Wall government will make no difference in how the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations will approach their agenda, said Vice-Chief Morley Watson.
"We'll start preparing for the things we want to see. We definitely don't have a shortage of agenda items to deal with, with both the provincial and federal governments," said Watson.
He said the election campaign went "from one extreme to another in a very short period of time." Watson pointed to the "line or two" in the NDP's campaign literature that talked about opening discussion with First Nations over resource revenue sharing and the resulting comment by Ottenbreit that easy handouts to First Nations are used for alcohol and drugs. While Ottenbreit apologized for his "poorly chosen words," FSIN called for his resignation. Wall stood behind Ottenbreit.
"(Ottenbreit's comments) are not the right discussions people are having. They're having these discussions based on bias," said Yellow Quill First Nation Chief Larry Cachene.
Cachene wants to see discussion centre around resource revenue sharing, a concept First Nations leaders pushed for during the Legislature rally Cachene helped organize at the end of September and a concept Wall crushed during the election campaign.
However, Watson is optimistic that because the issue was raised during the election campaign and received favourable press from local media, it could find its way on to Wall's agenda.
"It's nothing new, but maybe it gives us some hope, some opportunity we are going to be able to talk about it (again)," said Watson. He pointed out that resource revenue sharing was also something the FSIN discussed with the last NDP government.
Cachene said it was vital for this discussion to happen now as First Nations population climbs in Saskatchewan and social concerns and the need for economic development continue to dominate.
"We have to get Brad Wall onside to look at the opportunities to make the change through resource revenue sharing," said Cachene. He added that educating the Saskatchewan public also had to be high on the First Nations' list of priorities.
"We need to make sure we're clarifying Ottenbreit's information, giving (the public) more information, that all citizens of Canada should be benefitting. We should be able to tell the Canadian public this is the reason why we want revenue sharing and we should be able to make them see that," said Cachene.
Even before the writ was dropped, the Saskatchewan election was embroiled in controversy when the government announced it would not allow chiefs or their designates to provide attestation letters for their members as one of the two pieces of identification required.
Tammy Cook Searson, Chief of the La Ronge Indian Band, was instrumental in getting changes implemented in time for the election. In fact, Cook Searson went with one of her members to an advanced polling station with the new Letter of Authorization.
"I tested the system and it went right through," she said.
Cook Searson said it was important for First Nation members to vote.
"The decisions the province makes affect our everyday lives," she said.
BY SHARI NARINE
Sage Contributing Editor