Social media has become the ‘new moccasin telegraph’

OTTAWA — Pam Palmater essentially launched her campaign to lead the Assembly of First Nations on Twitter.

Word that another candidate, Ellen Gabriel, was going to run spread through Facebook before she could even file the paperwork.

Manitoba lawyer Joan Jack has become a household name among First Nations because of her use of social media.

And the blossoming Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is piping commentary, analysis and, on Thursday night, an all-candidates debate, straight into aboriginal living rooms across the country.

For the first time, regular First Nations people living in far-flung communities across Canada have readily accessible tools for a national conversation about their leadership in Ottawa — turning the traditional discourse among chiefs on its head.

“It has changed it entirely, that’s for sure,” Jack said in an interview.

The grassroots don’t have a vote, but through a growing network enabled by new media, they seem to have a voice.

“It’s the new moccasin telegraph,” said Jack.

“When you’re dealing with a community that has two degrees of separation and not six and you provide a social medium like this, that is relatively inexpensive and accessible to anybody, all of a sudden you’ve got everybody talking.”

About 630 chiefs will be eligible to vote next week on who should be the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations for the next three years. The post is arguably the most powerful aboriginal position in Canada, responsible for advocating on behalf of First Nations, dealing with Ottawa on a regular basis and determining the flavour of the relationship between First Nations and the rest of the country.

In the past, the campaign leading up to the vote has been conducted by phone, in print media and by candidates driving or flying to regional centres and reserves to speak to chiefs.

That’s still happening, but now, new media is giving candidates other avenues of communication. Up to 80 per cent of people in aboriginal communities report tuning in to APTN at least once a day. A study shows aboriginal usage of social media to be intense and rising. And increasingly, regular First Nations people are discussing how to assert their rights, improve their standard of living and relate to the rest of the country.

“This is new and it’s pushing change in the community,” said Jean LaRose, APTN’s chief executive. “And it’s coming up from the bottom. I’m not talking about an Indian spring here or anything, but it’s an interesting shift in the way our politics are happening.”

Eight people are contending for the national chief title — including the incumbent Shawn Atleo, four women, two regional chiefs and a Manitoba band chief.

Photo :CartoonStock

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