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Inuit Speak with a Louder voice

Inuit gather in Ottawa on Parliament Hill on World Suicide Prevention Day, 2010. © ITK Archives (2)

Your vote counts. As a matter of fact, if you live in Inuit Nunangat, your vote in the federal election scheduled for October 19 is actually worth more than if you lived in one of Canada’s major urban centres. That’s because Inuit Nunangat’s four ridings (Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Labrador and Abitibi-Baie-James- Nunavik-eeyou) have relatively small populations. So your vote has a proportionally greater impact on the result.

But that’s not the only reason your vote in the next federal election is important. In our democratic system, voting is also the great equalizer. We each get one vote. No amount of money or power will grant you any more than that. In that one sense, you have as great an influence on the outcome of an election in your riding as any other person in that riding.

Still not sure voting is worth your time? Consider this. voting was once a privilege granted only to white men. Not just any qallunaat qualified either. You had to own property. In fact, Inuit were excluded from the vote in the 1930s – before we ever knew we were included.

In the 1950s, according to historical research by elections Canada, Inuit had the vote restored to us without qualification. Sovereignty was the word of the decade, and extending the franchise to Inuit was part of a greater Cold War effort to exert sovereignty in Canada’s Arctic. But there was a hitch – we were living on the land, and while the land offered us many things, it offered neither ballots nor ballot boxes.

In the 1960s, our move into settlements had begun in earnest and those ballots and boxes finally materialized. The federal election of 1962 was the first time that Inuit in the eastern Arctic were able to exercise the right to vote in any significant number. Today we vote because we can. We vote because our ancestors couldn’t. We vote to give them a voice, and to give ourselves a voice in the decisions that govern our lives.

Here’s something else you should know: the voting laws have changed. That might make voting in this coming federal election confusing because it is a little different than in previous elections. You might be asked for a second piece of identification. You might find the lines at the polls a little longer than usual. Inform yourself and go prepared. visit www.itk.ca for a list in english and Inuktitut of acceptable pieces of Id. It’s a long list, and even if you don’t have any of the pieces listed, you still have options. You can vote if you’re homeless.

You can vote if you’re in prison. You can vote if you’re away from home for medical reasons. You can vote if you’re disabled. You can vote if you’re a unilingual Inuktitut-speaker. Working men and women are entitled to take time off work to vote, if required, and you don’t have to lose pay to do so.

If you’re 18 years old and a Canadian citizen, just vote. Who should you vote for? Well, that’s not for me to say. Make the decision that’s best for you. It’s your right.