Supreme Court ruling historic for Métis

Duane Hicks

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling last Thursday that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under the Constitution is being called a landmark decision by local Métis citizens.
“This is a significant victory for the Métis Nation. It will facilitate reconciliation between Canada and Métis communities from Ontario westward,” said Métis Nation of Ontario president Gary Lipinski.
“While this judgement removes the barriers that have stood in the way of reconciliation with the Métis, it is critical that the federal government not delay and move quickly to the negotiating table with Métis governments,” he added.
“Currently, Métis people do not receive access to whole series of programs and benefits that are available to First Nations and Inuit people,” Lipinski noted.
“These include funding for post-secondary education, uninsured health benefits, and many others.
“Exclusion from these programs has an impact on the daily lives of Métis people who are often the most impoverished of indigenous peoples,” he said.
Lipinski also stressed the importance of establishing a land claims process for the Métis nation.
“Starting negotiations immediately on land claims is essential to deal with the historic grievance of the Métis nation,” he stressed.
“We can no longer be a landless people in our own country.”
Sunset Country Métis president Clint Calder said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, as most constitutional law experts were of the view that the term “Indian” in Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act must include Métis and non-status Indians.
“However, I was very pleased with the ruling and its potential to advance Métis rights in Canada,” he added.
Calder said the Supreme Court decision is important because it finally settles the question of which level of government has the legislative authority and responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians.
“Prior to the ruling, neither the federal government nor the provinces would accept responsibility,” he noted.
“Now the Supreme Court of Canada has strongly declared that the federal government has that authority and responsibility.
“Hopefully, this will put pressure on the federal government to sit down and discuss programs and services for Métis and non-status Indians similar to what is provided for First Nation and Inuit peoples,” he added.
Calder said he doesn’t see any immediate implications for local Métis citizens.
“However, with the new federal Liberal government in power, and its stated commitment to advance reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginal peoples, the future is a little bit brighter,” he remarked.
“Ultimately, whether the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision is a step forward or just a hollow victory will depend on how serious the federal government is in renewing the relationship between Canada and its aboriginal peoples,” Calder said.
Sarah Marusyk, youth representative and secretary for the Sunset Country Métis Community Council, agreed the ruling definitely good news, but bears some clarification for many people.
“I was messaging a few friends on April 14th—some of whom were in Ottawa for the ruling—and we were all so thrilled about the announcement and so proud to be Métis,” she told the Times.
“Following the announcement, there was some confusion around what the ruling really means for Métis and non-status Indians,” added Marusyk.
“I watched and listened as news sources from across the country misreported the ruling by claiming that Métis and non-status Indians are now status Indians,” she said.
“Absolutely not.
“Canada’s top court has simply ruled that Métis and non-status Indians are now under the jurisdiction of the federal government,” Marusyk stressed.
“The feds and the provinces can no longer play hot potato with us.”
The ruling is estimated to impact the relationship between the federal government and 600,000 Métis and off-reserve Indians across the country.
The court case stems back to Métis leader Harry Daniels, who took the federal government to court in 1999 to allege discrimination because Métis were not considered “Indians” under the Constitution.
Daniels died in 2004 and his son, Gabriel, was added as a plaintiff the following year.
Justice Rosalie Abella, on behalf the Supreme Court, said Thursday’s ruling confirmed the federal government has the same responsibility to them as to status Indians and Inuit, and whether they have a right to be consulted by the government on their rights and needs.
“It was already well-established in Canadian law that the federal government was in a fiduciary relationship with Canada’s aboriginal peoples, and that the federal government had a duty to consult and negotiate with them when their rights were engaged,” she wrote in the ruling.
Abella also wrote the ruling was another chapter “in the pursuit of reconciliation and redress” in the long history between Canada and its indigenous people.
“The constitutional changes, the apologies for historic wrongs, a growing appreciation that aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are partners in Confederation . . . all indicate that reconciliation with all of Canada’s aboriginal peoples is Parliament’s goal,” Abella wrote.
She added the government considered Métis to be Indians as far back as 1818, and the notion was upheld after Confederation.