Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Winnipeg's 21st CE Candidate for Mayor, Robert-Falcon Ouellette

As a political junkie, I am encouraged by the genuine excitement and real emotions that are swirling around Winnipeg's Cree mayoral candidate, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, heading into tomorrow's election. His Cree heritage is symbolized by his long pony-tail that he keeps nicely braided as well as his choice in clothing. It's this unapologetic cultural pride that is forcing many Aboriginals to take notice, and non-Aboriginals to stop and analyze this new kind of political candidate.

This point is well-illustrated by a poignant story that Robert described to me after the, "Youth Vital Signs Mayoral Forum," at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Oct. 16.

I asked him about a question that was fielded by candidate Brian Bowman, how would he deal with racial discrimination in Winnipeg? In response, Ouellette said that it's mostly a matter of cross-cultural communication and learning, which he would promote through mixed-income communities and affordable home developments.

Robert recalled one of his first days on the campaign trail, campaigning at Winnipeg's Grant Park shopping mall when he went to shake the hand of a middle-aged man. "I can't shake your hand, you Indians are part of the problem," Robert recalled the man saying, "You're all corrupt and I don't want someone like you as mayor, because you're the problem with this city."

Instead of being offended and walking away, Robert actually reasoned with this man and told him about his life in the military and academia. Astounded by Ouellette's PHD and service to the country, this man apologized for his racist outburst and asked Ouellette for his card. A week later, the same man showed up at a debate with a few friends who were all looking to support the campaign.

We are witnessing the evolution of 21st century Canadian politics and I can't help but make comparisons to Pres. Barack Obama in the United States. I have seen the emotional posts on Facebook from indigenous people who feel like they have found a new role model and now believe that they can be a part of the political process for the first time. I've also heard a story from an Ouellette supporter about an elderly Cree grandmother who cried after casting her vote for Ouellette. It was her first time ever voting in any election.

This campaign, in my opinion, is a testament to the evolving Canadian culture. You can see it in the increase of female and minority representatives in politics, but the growing influence of First Nations people has been slow and is still hotly debated especially in Manitoba.

There are plenty of other intelligent, well-spoken and genuinely compassionate First Nations leaders across this country. Through cross-cultural dialogue, Robert-Falcon Ouellette is showing that they do have a place in the push for equal representation in Canadian politics.

After all, First Nations people form the foundation of Canadian culture. Their culture, from arts to their vernacular, is deeply entrenched in Canadian society, despite what many people may think. It is time for their political voice to be heard, so that this culture can finally have a seat at the table of our nation's decision-makers.

This is what I, and thousands of others, see in Robert-Falcon Ouellette's mayoral bid.

Mayoral Candidate, Robert-Falcon Ouellette describes his plans for Light Rail Transit in Winnipeg
at a meet & greet at a supporter's house on Oct.15, 2014
Ouellette shares his ideas with some decided and undecided voters
at a meet & greet at a supporter's house on Oct. 15, 2014

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