'Métis will no longer be the forgotten people:' Northerners welcome Supreme Court ruling
Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod says it's the start of a 'new era'
People in Northwest Territories and Yukon are welcoming today's historic ruling by the Supreme Court that Métis and non-status aboriginal people be considered "Indians" under the 1867 Canadian constitution.
The ruling extends the federal government's responsibilities to approximately 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status aboriginal people who are not affiliated with specific reserves. It may now serve as a starting point for those pursuing land claims and additional government services.
Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod, who is Métis, said the Supreme Court's opinion did not come as a surprise.
The legal case took 17 years to reach the Supreme Court, but the fight for Métis rights began long before that, said McLeod.
"We had anticipated that lives would change if we were given the same rights and recognition as other Aboriginal Peoples in Canada," he said.
"It's taken a long time. It's meant we haven't moved forward as fast as most of us would have liked.
"I think this is a new era for the Métis people and the Métis will no longer be the forgotten people as they have been categorised for so many years."
Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, said he was always optimistic about the outcome of the court case.
"It's about time; they can't shuffle us around any more," he said.
"They have to recognize the fact we are eligible for all programs they only give to the Indians."
Bill Webber, who fought for non-status rights in the early 1970s as president of the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians, says the recognition is long overdue, with immediate implications for federal funding to Yukon First Nations.
"Now the beneficiaries that were non-status under land claims will now be included in those numbers so there's going to be effects even for Yukon, but it's really good news for all of our aboriginal people across the country."