Last week, Canada’s highest court made a decision that is being considered a “huge victory” for all Métis people.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled April 14 that Canada has a constitutional and jurisdictional responsibility for Métis under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
“The decision in the Daniels case … is a huge victory for all Métis people, including our Métis people here in British Columbia because the federal government must now step up to the plate and negotiate in good faith with the Métis Nation,” Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) stated in a press release.
The Daniels case was launched in 1999 by prominent Métis leader Harry Daniels (who passed away in 2004) but did not go to trial until 2011, when the Federal Court ruled that Métis and non-status Indians fall under federal jurisdiction. The federal government appealed the ruling, and then the federal Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling in favour of the Métis, although not in favour of non-status Indians. The Supreme Court began hearing the case in October 2015.
“Both federal and provincial governments have, alternately, denied having legislative authority over non-status Indians and Métis,” Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella said last week, as quoted in the MNBC press release. “This results in these Indigenous communities being in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences. While finding Métis and non-status Indians to be ‘Indians’ under s. 91(24) does not create a duty to legislate, it has the undeniably salutary benefit of ending a jurisdictional tug-of-war.”
In reacting to the 27-page Supreme Court of Canada decision, MNBC president Bruce Dumont said he is “so proud and thankful” to be Métis and to represent Métis people in our province.
“All Métis should feel great pride today given this decision because the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed what the federal government has disputed for the last nearly 150 years — that the federal government has an obligation to recognize and accept it has unfulfilled obligations to the Métis people in this country,” he said in the release. “It is now time to get on with that task.”
This judgment has been before the courts for 17 years.
“We’ve been waiting for this a long time,” said Michael Dumont, president of the North Island Métis Nation (NIMN), who is the son of MNBC president Bruce Dumont.
But he knows nothing is going to happen overnight and they still need to be patient.
“Recognition is the key word here,” said Dumont. “Métis people across Canada have been waiting patiently but also pursuing this recognition. This victory at the Supreme Court level has finally come. This gives Métis people a starting point to negotiate with the provincial and the Federal government on a larger scale.”
Dumont says the biggest impact of this ruling for the NIMN chartered community at the local level will be funding for more office staff to provide more services for engagement with the nation’s membership. He says this will also help NIMN meet the needs of its membership through cultural programs like language, dance, harvesting, traditional crafts, medicine and cooking.
NIMN has almost 600 members and includes the area from the Oyster River bridge north.
Dumont says that now that MNBC and the charter communities have been recognized by the provincial and federal governments, they hope to receive more funding in the future. For Dumont, the focus for that funding in Campbell River and the North Island will be trying to improve Métis people’s lives in three focus areas: health care for all Métis people, especially Elders; housing for Métis who are struggling to find affordable places to call home; and education and training.
“Education and training, we’re doing quite well with that,” he said. “We have helped many Métis people in this area but the reality is funding is limited and the need continues. Provincially, housing hasn’t been addressed because we don’t have a land base. It will take a lot of variables. We used to have a health care plan across Canada but that got eliminated by the Harper government; that’s something we’d like to improve, especially for our Elders.”