APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a Federal Court decision that found the Metis have the same rights as Status Indians under the Canadian Constitution.
The appeal court, however, did not include non-status Indians in the decision, arguing it was a separate issue that needed to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
The appeal court’s decision in the Daniels case, if it stands, means Ottawa now has a fiduciary responsibility to the Metis who can now access programs and services previously exclusively offered to status First Nations people and Inuit. At the core, the case hinged on whether Ottawa or the provinces had jurisdiction over the Metis and non-status Indians.
“The Court declares that the Metis are included as ‘Indians’ within the meaning of section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867,” said the decision written by Justice Eleanor Dawson and concurred with by Justice Marc Noel and Justice Johanne Trudel.
Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council, said he was “very pleased” with the ruling.
“It is a significant victory and it is going to make it easier for us as we continue dealing with the federal government and continue our relationship building with the federal government,” said Chartier.
There are about 350,000 Metis in Canada.
Ottawa can still try to challenge the decision with the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We are reviewing all elements of (Thursday’s) decision to determine next steps,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office in a statement.
Valcourt’s office said it was “pleased” non-status Indian issue severed from the ruling on the Metis.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents Metis, non-status and off-reserve status people, said it was studying whether to appeal ruling to seek clarity on the non-status component.
“It’s a new ear of collaboration,” said CAP National Chief Betty Ann Lavallee.
Labrador’s NunatuKavut Community Council said it was “thrilled” with the decision.
“This is a major step towards the recognition and equality that we deserve,” said NCC President Todd Russell. “The Daniels decision should help change that, Government needs to bite the bullet and move forward to negotiations with us, rather than continue to ignore our rights and their obligations.”
The NCC, formerly the Labrador Metis Nation, has been trying to negotiate a land claim with Ottawa for 23 years.
The Daniels case was started in 1999 by Harry Daniels, a Metis leader who was president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and Leah Gardner, a non-status Indian woman from northwestern Ontario. After Daniels died in 2004, his son Gabriel Daniels was added to the case along with Terry Joudrey, a non-status Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia.
Ottawa has long held the position that it was only responsible for status Indians registered under the Indian Act and the Inuit. The Inuit had to to also fight for that recognition in court and won it in 1939.
The appeal court, however, excluded non-status Indians from its ruling.
“The reasons for excluding people from Indian status are complex, far-ranging and often unrelated to one another,” the appeal court said. “To determine the limits of the word ‘Indian’ as it pertains to non-status Indians under the division of powers it is necessary to analyze the reason each class of individual was excluded from the Indian Act on a case-by-case basis.”