More Than Voting by Greg Poelzer, Bonita Beatty, Loleen Berdahl

If Canada and Aboriginal people are going to find a common political path to dealing with conflict, the myth of the politically disengaged Aboriginal citizen needs to be expunged. This myth has arisen from a narrow measurement of political engagement that focuses solely on low Aboriginal voter turnout rates in federal elections.

A more comprehensive and fairer assessment of Aboriginal political engagement paints a different picture. Policy Options presents a study by Loleen Berdahl, Bonita Beatty, and Greg Poelzer, based on an extensive telephone survey (n = 851, of which 505 respondents were Aboriginal) conducted in November and December of 2010 across the Northern Administration District of Saskatchewan found that Aboriginal people are in fact highly politically and civically engaged.

Specially, the study found the pattern of voting for Aboriginal people is simply opposite to that of non-Aboriginal Canadians. Typically, Canadian participation is highest in federal elections and lowest in municipal elections. In our study, 77% voted in the last band elections; 45% in the last provincial election; and 38% in the last federal election.


  • Just under half reported helping organize or supervise activities or events for school, church or other organizations in the past year
  • 40% reported volunteering for a band event
  • 32% reported serving as a member of a board or committee
  • 23% reported contacting a government office about an issue in the past year
  • 31% said they had attended a band council meeting

What, then, can explain the lower voter turnout in provincial and, especially, federal elections among a population that is otherwise very political? The researchers believe the answer lies in the degree of affinity to the level of government: the greater the affinity, the higher the election turnout.

The sense of alienation from those levels of government and a perceived lack of efficacy — Aboriginal voters are a small percentage compared with the mainstream — as well as procedural barriers all contributed to lower turnouts.

These low turnout rates matter. While local political and civic engagement adds to the vitality of Aboriginal communities, low federal and provincial turnout rates hinder the ability of Aboriginal peoples to have impact on policy outcomes. For this reason, increasing engagement in the electoral process at the federal and provincial levels is an important goal.

The original article can be found in Policy Options

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Greg Poelzer

Greg M. Poelzer

Executive Chair, ICNGD and Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholar

Dr. Greg Poelzer is a Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) at the University of Saskatchewan. He the Co-Lead of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative III program. He is the Co-Director of a multi-million dollar SSHRC Partnership Grant (2019-2026), Community Appropriate Sustainable Energy Security (CASES), which spans 17 Indigenous and Northern communities across Canada, Alaska, Norway, and Sweden. He also is the Lead of the Renewable Energy in Remote and Indigenous Communities Flagship Initiative at the University of Saskatchewan and Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Renewable Energy.

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