Manipulation of Provincial Elections in Northern Saskatchewan
The event concerns the first provincial elections that First Nations people could vote in, beginning in 1960. The interviews obtained focus on Northern Saskatchewan.
As per Gwen Beck:
“And there was a lot of, there was always quite a bit of liquor in those days, you know, involved in it.” To which the interviewer, Murray Dobbin asks the question “: So people would try and get votes by buying drinks?”
Gwen responds by saying that many people who went to the polls were intoxicated, but does not outright say that the parties in the election had bought votes with alcohol. She also explains that there were rumours of cash being exchanged for votes, but that this could not be proven.
Another source corroborates this event by saying that: “And there was no doubt about it that there was an awful lot of liquor that seemed to appear from nowhere just the night before. And the same thing in the other communities, that cases of doughnuts would go into communities and cases of doughnuts have never gone in before nor since. And voting would turn around as to what you'd expect.”
These words come from an interview with Glen Lindgren. The testimonial regarding doughnuts, can be seen as a form of bribery. This indicates a disparity between Northern and Southern Saskatchewan relating to economic development, food insecurity and access to goods. This disparity has been created by colonial practices, and in this context, was used to manipulate the democratic process.
La Ronge resident Verna Richards corroborates stories of political corruption in Northern Saskatchewan, specifically La Ronge. She reports that the Liberal party tried to gain votes through deception. After this became less effective, the Liberal party escalated to obtaining votes through coercion by threatening loss of jobs and plying residents with alcohol. The Liberal party also distributed wildly inaccurate rumours about the consequences of voting for the NDP, stating that the NDP would apprehend the children of residents and, being associated with socialism and therefore with atheistic communism, would burn down churches and even homes that contained religious iconography or paraphernalia. It should be noted that Indigenous people were in a position of vulnerability as they had only recently been given voting rights by the Canadian state - this resulted from a lack of information provided by Elections Canada or any other governing body relating to the employment of a private ballot within Canada's democratic system. Ms. Richards also notes characteristics of racism and sexism within political parties in the area, including both the Liberals and the CCF, describing the exclusion of one Indigenous woman who had engaged in extensive campaigning for the CCF. The exclusion of Indigenous women from politics results in the exclusion of their voices at the political table, as well as issues that affect women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. She reports these events as happening around 1967.
The implications provides commentary on the integrity of the democratic process. That is, the democratic process was corrupted by party officials who engaged in bribery, deception and coercion. Political parties (particularly the provincial Liberal party) took advantage of the North's isolation from many goods and services, and their unfamiliarity with the concept of privacy of the ballot to their advantage. It is also highly likely that the political messaging related to the NDP/CCF regarding the propensity of the party to destroy churches and homes was particularly damaging given the lack of housing/poor housing conditions on La Ronge reserve. There may also have been a fear regarding the disappearance of social/community supports due to colonialism's propensity to cause community fragmentation - causing the loss of a community centre, such as a church, could feel particularly threatening. It should also be noted that the imposition of colonial policy in Northern Saskatchewan also disadvantaged communities through regulation of hunting, fishing and trapping, resulting in severe disruptions to Indigenous lifeways and economies. This could have made the promise of provisioned goods, should the party be elected, quite enticing due to the disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions members of Northern communities faced.