Tuesday, October 27, 2015

YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE

FORT CHIPEWYAN, ALBERTA
Two elections, one right after the other, is exhausting.

The first one was the Canadian federal election. And as we know the Canadian electorate voted on October 19th, 2015, for “real change” and overwhelmingly voted to reinstate the Liberal party with a majority government. I am pleased with that result.

The second one is my First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN).  The election is fast approaching, on October 30th, 2015.  ACFN has their elections for chief and council every four years.

Many of the over 800 electorate do not live in the hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, but are represented by a Council that according to the by-laws must be a resident of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. This was a real hindrance with respect to communications for members who didn’t live in the community, like myself.

Fortunately, because of social media this election is vastly different. I decided to facilitate this process by creating a Facebook election group for members to discuss issues relating to the election and to obtain information to make an informed decision. Moreover, it provided a platform for candidates to reach as many members as possible in the short timeframe of two weeks between nominations and election day. I also created a number of individual political Facebook pages for candidates and shared what they have on their page with the group. Eventually, they did this on their own without any prompting from me.

For sure, as expected, some people are suspicious of my motives as I have written some critical blogs on the current Council.  But they are wrong I did not create the page to discredit them. Simply put, I, like others, needed a forum, so I created one.  I only wanted to raise the level of communication about the issues facing our First Nation. In fact, I have been active in the past few years attempting to encourage members that they had every right to raise questions and to request accountability and transparency from our local government.  An election is the ideal opportunity to send a message that we expect and deserve better. Canadian's did it in the general federal election on October 19th, and established a new relationship with the governing party. I have confidence ACFN members will make the right choice, too.  On the other hand, maybe, they are not ready yet. 

What was my experience as moderator for a politically charged election? Remarkably, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I assumed there would be more rumours, gossip and attacks on people, but on the whole the exchange was very civilized. I had to delete only two threads, which I found had no useful contribution to the discussion and served only to attack a certain individual. By and large, I am rather proud of how our members used the forum and the tone of the discussions. Although some might disagree since there was some pointed questions asked of the current council. But I believe this was not asked out of malice but to clarify questions members had.

Did it meet my expectations?  Indeed, I would say that it exceeded them. I thought that only a small handful of people would actually use it, but as word got out more and more people asked to join. And initially, I thought I would have to introduce the conversations by suggesting topics and guide people along. I tried a couple of polls and asked questions, however, although I could see who saw the question only a few people actually took part in the polls. I quickly moved away from that approach.

It didn’t take long for the page to organically take on a life of its own. People were genuinely interested in how candidates would specifically answer their questions.  In turn, while the candidates eagerly provided scripted platforms, their answers on the forum for the most part were less scripted and a natural dialogue ensued.

Was I surprised by how the page influenced me?  Yes, very much.  I started with an idea that I would be supporting particular candidates.  However, as candidates started responding, or in some cases failed to respond, I began to see a shift from a candidate I was supporting and moving to someone I had never considered before.

As my mind became more made up, I felt although the forum was excellent, it lacked something.  I needed “real human” connection. I needed more information and started contacting people and asking questions. What kind of character did this or that person have, are they motivated, and most importantly did they have the respect of the community? Very much like checking reference of an applicant. What resulted made me once again reconsider some of my choices. Someone who looked great on paper but then when references where checked resulted in a red flag.

As we head to the end of the election I feel good about being able to facilitate the online forum. But I hope members do their own due diligence and instead of relying on what they read on the online forum and decide to make that “real human” connection before making their mark on the ballot.  Unlike a federal election, in a small community you can often get the real story about candidates just by asking the people who know them.

The people we elect are taking on a position of great responsibility and it is not enough to say, “they are a pretty good person.”There has to be substance and character with values and experience that resinate with us. 

Who knows, I might be swayed again with still four days left before Election Day.   
  



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