Canada's top court must decide if the Métis were cheated out of an 1870 government land deal that settled the Red River Rebellion, after hearing legal arguments from both sides on Tuesday.


Aboriginal rights lawyer Tom Berger represented the Manitoba Métis Federation in a land claims case before the Supreme Court of Canada on Tuesday. (Handout/Canadian Press)

The Supreme Court of Canada heard from the federal government and the Manitoba Métis Federation, which argues that Ottawa reneged on its promise 141 years ago to set aside 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis.

Federal lawyers argue that the case should be thrown out because it is more than a century old.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, who said Tuesday's court hearing in Ottawa was an emotional experience.

"Sitting there and seeing so many proud faces, and the many prayers and tears that were shed at home before I left … there's so much hopes and aspirations on this," he told CBC News that afternoon. "It's a good feeling."

'Proud day to be Métis'

The Supreme Court must now rule on the case. Chartrand said no matter how the court decides, being in court made for a great day for the Métis people.

"It's a proud day to be Métis … and I'm happy God gave me the opportunity to lead us where we are today," he said.

"I know that deep down, our nation's very, very proud, and I'm looking forward to whatever [decision] comes down."

The Supreme Court case is the Manitoba Métis Federation's last legal attempt to right what it calls the betrayal of a generation of Métis children, who lost their land and birthright.

The 1870 land deal was made in order to settle the Red River Rebellion, which was fought by Métis rebels struggling to hold on to their land in the face of growing white settlements.

But it took 15 years for those lands to be completely distributed, while the Métis rebels faced hostility from large numbers of incoming settlers.

The federal government ultimately distributed the land through a random lottery, destroying any chance of a Métis homeland.

A Métis win would probably lead to high-stakes land-claim negotiations, and fulfil a prophesy made by Métis leader Louis Riel more than a century ago.

With files from The Canadian Press