Métis anxiously await landmark Supreme Court ruling on rights
Decision on whether to grant Indian status could improve access to federal programs
Thousands of people in the Maritimes who identify as Métis will find out on Thursday whether Canada's highest court is going to grant them Indian status under the Constitution Act of 1867.
Such status would confer the right to collectively negotiate treaties and benefits with the federal government.
"This will finally end the quarrel about whose jurisdiction we're under," Tanya Dubé, a director with the Canadian Métis Council's head office in Plaster Rock.
"If everything goes in our favour, it means that we get the full recognition we were supposed to get," she said.
"This will oblige them (Ottawa) to sit down and start negotiating."
The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the so-called Daniels case, which has taken 17 years to wend its way to a conclusion.
It was initiated by prominent Métis leader Harry Daniels, of Saskatchewan, who died in 2004, before the case went to trial in 2011.
It would improve situations where now people fall through the cracks.- Jula Hughes, law professor
UNB law professor Jula Hughes says a favourable ruling on Thursday for Canada's estimated 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians could open up access to federal programs affecting schooling, child care, health benefits, culture, and language.
"It would get us out of a situation where, for any given person, there is a dispute between the federal government and the provincial government, as to who is responsible," said Hughes.
"And it would improve situations where now people fall through the cracks."
Genealogy records scarce
Some academics are also hoping the Supreme Court of Canada will help settle the controversy around the question of who is Métis.
One existing legal test, also called the Powley Test, sets out three criteria. The individual must:
- Identify as a Métis person.
- Be a member of a present-day Métis community.
- Have ties to a historic Métis community.
Dubé says that hurts people, such as herself, who have difficulty tracing their roots to historical Métis settlements.
She says her Mohawk, Maliseet, Mi'kmaq, French, English, Irish and Scottish ancestors moved across territories in Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine.
Sometimes, she says, her forebears were driven by seasons. Or, they were deported.
"Because of the [Acadian] expulsion, a lot of documents were destroyed," said Dubé.
"Some of the church records toward Caraquet and that area, the churches had fires and the records were destroyed."
Dubé says she knows people who spend years trying to uncover their genealogies.
Could be 1,000 Métis in New Brunswick
Still, she says, the Canadian Métis Council recognizes 500 members in its New Brunswick database.
However, she estimates the population of Métis in the province would be about 1,000.
On Thursday, she says she'll be watching the Supreme Court of Canada's web site, hoping for the best.
Hughes says she'll be reading the decision as soon as it's out.
"I don't think Thursday's decision will solve all the problems that are experienced by Indigenous people across the country.
"But I do have hope that the super-added burden that comes from being in the majority of living off-reserve and being non-status and being Métis and having none of the benefits of the Indian Act regime attached to you, that those additional burdens may get some additional alleviation."
The original plaintiffs in the case were Harry Daniels; his son, Gabriel; Leah Gardner, a non-status Indian from Ontario; Terry Joudrey, a non-status Indian from Nova Scotia; and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
The defendants were Her Majesty the Queen, as represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; and the Attorney General of Canada.