'I'm still in tears,' local Métis leader says of Supreme Court decision

A Supreme Court decision that says that Métis and non-status Indians are under the responsibility of the federal government ends the political limbo the groups have been in, Grand River Métis Council president Jennifer Parkinson says.

More than 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians now covered by federal government

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Mé​tis Federation, front right, and Will Goodon, minister of housing for the Manitoba Mé​tis Federation, left, take part in a group photo prior to a decision at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A Supreme Court decision that ends a 17-year court battle over what level of government oversees Métis and non-status Indians is a big first step, one local Mé​tis leader says.

"This is such a great opportunity for our nation. We have been in political limbo for hundreds of years," Jennifer Parkinson, president of the Grand River Mé​tis Council, said Thursday after the decision came down.

"The Mé​tis have been in a political football game between the federal and provincial government because there was no government responsible for Mé​tis rights or land claims or the Mé​tis people, so this is a great step forward for the Mé​tis nation," she said. " And right now, I'm still in tears."

Ruling opens the door

The Supreme Court ruled more than 200,000 Mé​tis and 400,000 non-status aboriginal people who are not affiliated with specific reserves will be under the federal government's responsibility. That gives people pursuing land claims or seeking additional government services and benefits a starting point to work from. 

Dwight Dorey, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said it was "a great day."

"Now hopefully we will not have to wait any longer to sit at the table," he told CBC News.
Jennifer Parkinson is the president of the Grand River Mé​tis Council. (Grand River Mé​tis Council)

Gary Lipinski, president of the Mé​tis Nation of Ontario, agreed.

"Clearly, it has opened the door in our view to now move forward with the federal government on a nation-to-nation basis, dealing with developing a land claims process, to deal with historic promises that were made to Mé​tis people as Canada developed as a country," he said, adding that it would provide access "to some of the social programs that most Canadians wouldn't recognize or realize that those programs aren't available to Mé​tis people."

"It's certainly allows us to now again have hope, hope that we can finally have our proper place in Confederation, truly recognized."

'We will always be Mé​tis'

Lipinski said there has been a sense that Mé​tis and non-status Indians are indigenous, but "not quite as equal as Inuit or the First Nations."

"There isn't a hierarchy, they're all equal indigenous peoples and there's a responsibility by the federal government to treat and deal with them fairly and equitably, so it creates an air of optimism and hope that we can finally get redress on these long-standing issues," he said.

But, Parkinson noted, the decision does not make them Indians.

"A lot of people think now we're Indians. We are basically Indians under Section [91 in the Constitution], which just means who is responsible for us. But we are not under the Indian Act," she said. "We are not Indians. We are Mé​tis. And we will always be Mé​tis."