Amanda Miller says she doesn’t look First Nations. But her mother is. Not appearing native has given Miller an uncensored understanding of what some white people really think.
Miller was raised mostly by her father, who is white. She didn’t identify as First Nations until she was 19 and took a history course on First Nations issues at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
The course prompted her to transfer into the First Nations Studies program where she became part of the tightly woven UBC First Nations and Métis community. Now she is completing her second undergraduate degree, this time in First Nations Legal Studies.
“I get to see both sides of the spectrum. I get to see the racist side and I get to see the First Nations side,” she says. “Some of the things people say about First Nations issues and First Nations politics are something they would never say to a visibly First Nations person’s face.”
Miller wants to work on human rights issues at the United Nations when she graduates. For her, it is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s failure to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that is weighing most heavily in her voting calculations for the October 14 election.
The legally non-binding declaration establishes the global human rights of indigenous peoples, enshrining their rights to self-determination and the resources of their land. The declaration was passed in September 2007 with the support of 143 countries. Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand did not sign on.
The PM’s refusal to sign the declaration “pissed [her] off.” Ever since, Miller says, there has been something about Harper that she doesn’t trust. “Economically he was good for our country, but in every other aspect he was horrible.”
Even with Harper ruled out, the way she will cast her vote on October 14 is still up in the air.
“I’m from Alberta which is an extremely conservative province. And I’m here and I’m surrounded by very liberal people,” Miller explains. “It’s hard to try and find the middle ground because I don’t like the liberal side and I don’t like the conservative side so I’m kind of like where do I go from here?…I’m not going to vote for someone who lives in a whitewashed world.”
Miller will vote in the Red Deer electoral district, a neighbouring riding to her hometown’s district. She has been talking with people “back home” in Rocky Mountain House, taking their views into consideration while she prepares to cast her vote.
“I guess the whole First Nations thing has rubbed off on me more. We talk all the time,” Miller says. “I’m not going to make a decision based on my voice alone.”
In the 2006 federal election, the Conservatives swept Alberta. In the Red Deer riding, the Conservative Party won 75.8 per cent of the popular vote. Miller says that last time, her friends and family supported Harper and his Conservatives. But she thinks things might be changing this election, at least in Rocky Mountain House.
“A lot of [people back home] have changed their position on [Harper] especially after not signing the declaration,” Miller says. “But they don’t want Dion either… and at this point, the NDP and Greens aren’t going to do anything back home.”
Miller didn’t vote in the 2006 federal election because she says she couldn’t decide. Voting turnout amongst First Nations people is generally lower than the Canadian average. Using data from the 264 polling divisions that include only reserves, Elections Canada estimated that 48 per cent of Aboriginal people voted compared to the national average of 64 per cent in the 2000 federal election.
“At this point I’m like I have to vote, because if I don’t vote then I don’t get the right to bitch,” Miller says laughing. “One vote could change everything.”