Premier Bob McLeod on what landmark decision means for N.W.T. Métis

Last week, a landmark Supreme Court decision ruled that Métis and non-status Indians are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. We spoke with Bob McLeod - the only Métis premier in Canada - about what the decision means for the Northwest Territories.

'In the Northwest Territories, we've always treated Métis differently,' says McLeod

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod in our CBC Yellowknife studios in late 2015. McLeod spoke with Trailbreaker host Loren McGinnis Thursday morning on the Supreme Court's landmark decision regarding Métis in Canada. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Last week, a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that tens of thousands of Métis and non-status Indians are now under the jurisdiction of the federal government, ending a 17-year court battle. The decision is expected to have major effects on Métis and non-status Indians across the country, particularly when it comes to accessing federal programming and land claims. 

​Thursday morning on CBC Radio's The Trailbreaker, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod — the only Métis premier in Canada — spoke with host Loren McGinnis on what the ruling could mean for the territory, and the N.W.T.'s unique history with the Métis.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

What does the decision mean to you, personally? 

Well, I think that all Métis are very pleased and proud of the decision. I myself knew Harry Daniels [the original complainant and prominent Métis leader, who died in 2004] personally. And we all recognize that the Supreme Court decision is a very important one which will have implications for Métis and non-status Indians throughout Canada.

How will this change things in the Northwest Territories?

In the Northwest Territories, we've always treated Métis differently. I think the Northwest Territories is unique throughout Canada, because the Métis are negotiating a land claim, we've always recognized their Aboriginal rights to hunt, and so on. The Métis were part and parcel of the land claims that were settled in the Sahtu, and the Gwich'in, and the Tlicho.

The federal government will have to re-examine how it funds programs for the Métis, such as Métis health benefits, which our [territorial] government provides right now. 

You mentioned that the territorial government currently covers the cost of health benefits for Métis in the territory. Is that a cost you expect will be picked up by the federal government? 

I expect that when they re-examine their positions in these areas, with the Supreme Court ruling, they will determine they will have to change their programs. As well, I expect that it'll provide for greater constitutional protection for Métis people when it comes to negotiating their land claims and so on. 

How will this decision change the position that Métis have within their land claims with the federal and territorial government? 

I think it'll have very significant implications, because of the fact that we have supported the Métis, the N.W.T. Métis Nation, in their negotiations, that their land claim, once it's final and implemented, should be constitutionally protected. And the Government of Canada has preferred to negotiate as a contract between the Métis and the federal government.

So we think it's going to have very important implications for those negotiations when it comes to constitutional protection, so the Métis claim will be constitutionally protected like any other land claim that's negotiated in the Northwest Territories and Canada.

Can you explain why the Northwest Territories treats Métis different from other provinces, and how that came to be?

I think the fact that through the years, through the legislation that we passed, we recognized that the people have been here. 

The years that we recognize are 1921 and 1953. And so those Indigenous people that were here before 1921, and re-affirmed when the Wildlife Act was changed in 1953, had specific rights, and we've always respected that.

We always felt as a government that the Métis, which were recognized in the Constitution of Canada, had rights akin to status Indians and Inuit. We've always operated on that basis. 

with files from Loren McGinnis, Marc Winkler