Steelworkers Support Indigenous Elder’s Appeals to Federal Candidates

On Sept. 8, USW Local 9548 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., hosted a debate for candidates vying to become the riding’s next Member of Parliament, but for many Steelworkers in attendance the most-compelling pronouncements came from a non-politician – Indigenous elder Don Waboose.

“For us, Don spoke real truth that night, and we appreciated it,” said Local 9548 President Cody Alexander, whose local represents about 350 workers at Tenaris Algoma Tubes, including a strong Indigenous contingent.

“We agreed and felt deeply about what Don had to say. There is a real alignment between our union and our Indigenous communities,” Alexander said.

Waboose, an elder from the Batchewana First Nation outside Sault Ste. Marie, was asked by USW Local 9548 to open and close the all-candidates’ debate with land acknowledgements and prayer. The local also welcomed the elder’s request to make personal remarks to the candidates regarding issues that should be front-and-centre in the federal election campaign.

Waboose cited longstanding failures of the federal and provincial governments to honour treaties, countless other unfulfilled promises made to Indigenous people, as well as environmental devastation and the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Many promises have been made, yet have been broken one by one. Not by us. By the federal government, the Crown and even the province. When are we going to stand up and ... start honouring our relationship of the original Indigenous treaties of this great country we call Canada?” Waboose asked.

“When are we going to stand up as people in this country to stop this genocide that’s happening to our people?”

Local 9548 did not endorse a candidate in the Sault Ste. Marie riding, opting instead to host an all- candidates’ debate to allow union members to make their own decisions, Alexander said.

“It was the first time we hosted a debate and it went well. Our members were able to ask union-focused questions and hear what the candidates had to say.”

Local 9548 is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous communities and peoples, as well as advocating for the issues important to Indigenous union members , Alexander added.

“We created an Indigenous Circle in our local and it is officially recognized in our collective agreement to represent the interests of our members in the workplace and to support our Indigenous communities as well,” he noted.

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