Chief Wallace Fox of Saskatchewan’s 5,000-member Onion Lake Cree Nation has ressurected the concept of a First Nations provincial party, an idea that emerged in the 1980s with the Aboriginal People’s Party of Saskatchewan (APPS). Two candidates for the ill-fated APPS ran unsuccessfully in the 1982 provincial election.
Five days before Saskatchewan’s 2011 election, Fox held a Nov. 2 press conference at the Saskatoon Tribal Council office. Noting that about 15% of the province’s population is indigenous, Fox said a First Nations party could probably win 11 of its 57 ridings. Such a party could hold the balance of power after the next election and significantly affect policy in the province. “There will be a party. … I believe that it’s time,” said Fox, adding that he would not run for the leadership. The more than 12 tribal leaders he has broached the subject with are open to it, he said.
For the Nov. 7 election, however, Fox and other Onion Lake leaders urged indigenous voters to support the NDP, because of its First Nations-friendly proposals. An aboriginal university student attending the conference stressed that it would be best to ensure that all political candidates, “regardless of their ethnicities,” are aware of and proactive on issues specific to the aboriginal community.
Mark Macdonald, national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, is not surprised at Fox’s proposal. “In fact, it surprises me that it hasn’t happened sooner. There is some frustration, I think, on the part of indigenous people, related to ongoing cross-cultural difficulties with Western institutions and organizations like political parties, ” he said. “If the political parties have a hard time understanding your issues, you may feel that the best thing you can do is organize your own party and hope to make a difference. For most indigenous groups,” noted Macdonald, “the big problem is convincing others of their right to exist in their own cultural-political way.”