September 23, 2008
No polls on reserve Oct. 14
First time in four decades
Posted By JEREMY ASHLEY, THE INTELLIGENCER
September 23, 2008
For the first time in four decades, those wishing to vote in the upcoming federal election here must go off the reserve to do so.
It is believed the decision to move the poll was designed to head off potential protests by dissident band members who threatened a provincial polling station in the last Ontario election. During the past week, Elections Canada decided to forego having a polling station located on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory for the Oct. 14 election -- breaking a tradition that has been in place since the 1960s.
Instead, members of the First Nations community will have to travel to the community centre in Melrose, which is several kilo-m etres north of the reserve to cast their ballot.
Any calls to local election returning offices asking questions about the reasons behind the change were referred to Elections Canada media centre in Ottawa.
"A change of location was made to have it at the community centre," said Elections Canada spokesman John McKay from Ottawa.
"We constantly review the allocation of polling sites to make sure everybody is best served," he said.
"These kinds of things happen all the time."
Change cards are being sent out this week to registered voters on the reserve, he said.
McKay, however, wouldn't elaborate on any of the reasons behind the decision -- only to say the move will benefit the entire community as "it will serve voters on the reserve, but also serve the community at large."
Sources on the reserve say the decision had nothing to do with access to voters, however, and everything to do with meetings held by native protesters behind closed doors last week.
A similar scenario played out during last year's provincial election, when the threat of native protesters shutting down polling stations on the reserve prompted election officials to move the site to nearby Deseronto.
At the time, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte band council sent a letter to election officials stating that "allowing a provincial election polling station is a highly contentious issue" for the community, given the heated political climate about land claim issues and ongoing prescence of the provincial police on the reserve.
Last week, Chief R. Donald Maracle said the band council endorsed a motion noting that people have the right to vote -- and should have the right to vote at a polling station on the reserve, if they chose to do so.
"Some members (of council) didn't agree with the voting, but also recognized that some members of the community wanted to vote and didn't want to infringe on their rights to do so," he said Monday.
"There are people in the community who believe in the traditional view that people shouldn't vote ... and there are other people who believe it is their right and want to vote."