lethbridge herald WITH CP FILES
The federal court decision that MŽtis and non-status Indians are indeed "Indians" under a section of the Constitution Act came as good news to one local elder.
Roderick McLeod, who serves as an elder adviser at Lethbridge College, said MŽtis people currently fall under provincial jurisdiction and that has led to a patchwork of policies.
"We'll have one entity that we'll be dealing with so this will make it quite a bit better for us," McLeod said. "We'll be able to focus on the entire MŽtis Nation and just the federal government instead of going through several different ones."
The decision came after more than 13 years of legal wrangling. The decision helps clarify the relationship between Ottawa and the more than 600,000 aboriginal people who are not affiliated with specific reserves.
"The recognition of MŽtis and non-status Indian as Indians under section 91(24) should accord a further level of respect and reconcilation by removing the constitutional uncertainty surrounding these groups," wrote Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan.
The decision does not go so far as to declare that the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to the group but it said such duties would automatically flow now that their standing has been clarified.
In 1999, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and several MŽtis and non-status Indians took the federal government to court alleging discrimination because they weren't considered Indians under a section of the Constitution Act. They argued they are entitled to the some or all of the same rights and benefits as on-reserve First Nations members, including health, education, being able to hunt, trap, fish and gather on public land and the being able to negotiate and enter into treaties with the federal government.
"It's still going to be a long, hard road ahead of us because I'm sure the federal government will appeal that decision," McLeod said. "We're really excited about it because it's really been a long process."
The decision may also soon have more people lining up for membership cards.
Randy Ranville, a genealogist with the MŽtis Culture and Heritage Resource Centre in Winnipeg, helps MŽtis applicants dig through government scrips, Hudson's Bay Company employee records and the 1901 census for evidence their ancestors were designated "half-breeds."
"We're going to be swamped," he said, following the court decision.
MŽtis people descend from European fur traders who married Indian women in the 18th century. As their numbers grew, they established distinct communities across the Prairie provinces and into Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States. The largest community was the Red River settlement in Manitoba.
According to the 2006 census, nearly 400,000 Canadians self-identified as MŽtis, although about half that number is officially recognized. Roughly 115,000 MŽtis have registered in Manitoba, Ranville said. Alberta has 86,000 MŽtis, McLeod said.
Each province has a MŽtis organization which registers members and outlines its own requirements for status. Typically, proof lies in an official family tree, accompanied by birth certificates and other documentation with ties to the historic MŽtis homeland.
Fred Shore, a professor in native studies at the University of Manitoba, said many people consider themselves MŽtis just because there's native blood somewhere in their family tree.
"That does not a MŽtis make," said Shore.
"There's a lot of people like that in the country who have a half of this and a part of that. They're going to come forward and say 'Well, we're Metis. Where's my share of the cash?'"