Federal Liberals hope to tap First Nations support with First Voice

A third high-profile federal Liberal will be in Chilliwack this month as part of an event called First Voice.

The Honourable Stéphane Dion.

Chilliwack has been Conservative country in federal politics for many decades.

But political rumblings make it clear some are out to change it to Liberal land.

First it was Justin Trudeau attending a party fundraiser in Chilliwack in November of 2012 during his successful bid to become party leader. Then Ralph Goodale toured Party in the Park last summer.

Now MP Stéphane Dion is making an appearance at an event later this month in Chilliwack geared to engaging local First Nations in the federal political process.

An event called First Voice is set for Feb. 28 at Squiala Community Centre, in concert by Chilliwack’s own Inez Jasper, and guest speaker Stéphane Dion, sponsored by the local federal Liberal riding association.

The First Voice poster features an aboriginal person draped in a four directions flag standing before the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa.

The goal of the event is to “involve, inform, inspire” according to the poster, and it’s aimed at aboriginal youth and politics.

Inez Jasper said she hasn’t made any decisions yet about who she’ll vote for in the next federal election, but was invited by local Liberal supporters to be a part of the event.

“We need opportunities like this to learn about the different parties,” she says. “If the Liberals are willing to bring information in a fun format, I’m down to come down and sing and learn something about federal politics.”

Politics and voting can be a “contentious” issue for the aboriginal community.

“It’s our opportunity to have a voice, and to come together to ask the questions that are burning in our minds,” Inez tells The Progress.

“Everyone is feeling a bit defeated politically lately; feeling like their vote doesn’t count. We need to start a dialogue.”

But voter apathy is not limited to First Nations, she underlines.

This is an opportunity for young people to get engaged regardless of political stripes, and everyone is welcome to attend, from both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, she said.

“This event was the creation of our riding association,” said president Jan Polderman of the Chilliwack-Hope Liberal riding association.

Local supporters have been fundraising furiously, and First Voice was the brainchild of Bravo Restaurant owner Louis De Jaeger.

“We’re now one of the better funded ridings in Western Canada,” said Polderman. “We’re actively trying to engage Canadians in the political process and since we have a lot First Nations in our riding, we wanted to do something to create a positive relationship in that regard.”

Guest speaker Dion will likely be talking about his perspective on leader Trudeau’s positive vision for Canada, he added.

“Our riding members don’t believe this government is leading Canada in the right direction. This is a local push in another direction.”

First Voice, Feb. 28, Squiala Community Centre, 6 p.m. Families welcome. Free admission.