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First Nations, Métis, and Inuit electors

Indigenous people in Canada consist of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Each has its own history and experience with voting in federal elections. Members of all three groups, however, identify similar barriers to electoral participation.

Access-related barriers

  • The 2019 National Electors Study showed that Indigenous electors were less likely to be registered to vote in the 2019 federal election (84% compared to 89% of non-Indigenous electors). Because of lower registration rates fewer Indigenous electors received a voter information card in the lead-up to the last federal election (86% compared to 93% of the general population).
  • Several factors can make registering and voting more difficult for Indigenous electors;
    • First Nations, Métis, and Inuit electors are more likely to live in remote places without standard civic addresses (like reserves, hamlets, and settlements).
    • Due to non-standard addresses, such as PO boxes, sections, concessions, ranges etc. Indigenous electors are less likely than the general population to have a piece of ID that proves their address.
    • Many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit electors who travel often between two or more communities (whether for school, work, hunting, or other reasons) say it is challenging to confirm the place where they should register and vote.
  • In their report on the 43rd Federal General Election, the Assembly of First Nations noted that the distance to polling stations continued to be identified as a barrier to voting. In many remote areas there is no public transportation and electors must have access to a private vehicle to get to the polls. Findings from the 2019 National Electors Study confirmed that Indigenous electors were less likely than the general population to find that it took a reasonable amount of time to get to the polls.
  • In some regions, traditional languages continue to play an important role, especially among elders.  While Elections Canada publishes voter information in 16 Indigenous languages, language barriers remain.

Motivational barriers

As noted above, each of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have their own unique history and experiences with federal elections. These histories have affected how many Indigenous electors view federal elections, and influence their decision to participate – or not to participate.

  • Until 1960, First Nations people could only vote in federal elections if they gave up their status. Exceptions were occasionally made for members of the armed forces on active duty.
  • Inuit people received the right to vote federally in 1950, however, access to voting services in their traditional lands was limited until 1962.
  • Métis people have always had the right to vote federally, but in certain parts of Canada, geographical and social isolation made voting difficult.

In recent federal elections, Indigenous participation has increased in some areas. Notably, the 2015 general election saw the smallest gap between on-reserve turnout and general population turnout since 2004. The same election saw the highest-ever number of Indigenous Members of Parliament elected.  While on-reserve turnout declined by nearly 10 percentage points in the 2019 federal election, it nevertheless remained higher than it had been throughout the 2000s.

Despite some progress, many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit electors continue to experience barriers like those listed above.

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit electors

Dabin, Simon, Jean François Daoust and Martin Papillon. 2018. « Indigenous Peoples and Affinity Voting in Canada. » Forthcoming in Canadian Journal of Political Science.

Goodman, Nicole, Chelsea Gabel and Brian Budd. 2018. « Online Voting in Indigenous Communities: Lessons from Canada. » International Joint Conference on Electronic Voting: E-Vote ID 2018. [Abstract, Voilà]

Elections Canada. 2011. « Aboriginal Electoral Participation in Canada »

Elections Canada. 2009. « Aboriginal Policy Research Conference »

Elections Canada. 2003. Electoral Insight – Aboriginal Participation in Elections