12/21/2012 03:32 EST | Updated 02/20/2013 05:12 EST

Native Canadians Must be Idle No More on Election Day

Blaire Russell

The Arab Spring started exactly two years ago this week, when a young Tunisian expressed his frustration in an act of self-immolation. Mohamed Bouazizi's subsequent death sparked a series of street demonstrations through December 2010 ultimately led to the ousting of longtime President Mubarak a year later. The demonstrations were preceded by high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, and poor living conditions. The tension between rising aspirations and a lack of government reform may have been a contributing factor in all of the protests.

In Canada, Aboriginal peoples' frustration has boiled over, precipitated by many of the same circumstances seen in Tunisia: chronicallyhigh unemployment, inflated food costs, corruption, and poor living conditions as seen in Attawapiskat. Canada's Mohamed Bouazizi may be the hunger-striking chief of the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation, Theresa Spence.

While Arab leaders ignored spurts of dissent or attempted to quell the Arab Spring, their efforts were rendered futile. No Arab government could un-ring the bell that is sociopolitical awakening. To this day, Egyptians held their leader's feet to the fire when he overstepped his boundaries, forcing President Morsi to annul a constitutional amendment that would have expanded his power. Tunisians and Egyptians awoke from the fog of fear, stood up and spoke out on the streets of Cairo and -- most importantly -- took their movement to the polls.

In contrast, voter turnout for First Nations has been dismal at best. While the statistics are not exact and do not include off-reserve Aboriginals, voter turnout on reserves hovers between 35 and 50 per cent. Like many oppressed Canadians, Aboriginals have diluted their own strength via their collective electoral idleness. It could also explain why PM Stephen Harper has given more face time to Justin Bieber than the First Nation's leader.

As the "Idle No More" movement grows, Canadians are wondering whether First Nations' commitment to the cause will constitute a new normal, or will the beat of the native drums die down in yet another defeat?

On this day of Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year, here's hoping for an Aboriginal Autumn that lasts through the 2015 Spring election and beyond.

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