Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia indigenous groups welcome 'landmark' Supreme Court ruling

Indigenous people in Nova Scotia are welcoming Thursday's unanimous ruling by Canada's top court that Ottawa has jurisdiction over all indigenous people.

'It's finally a good day to be an Indian,' says N.S. Native Council chief and president Grace Conrad

Roger Hunka and Grace Conrad welcomed Thursday's Supreme Court unanimous ruling that says Ottawa has jurisdiction over all indigenous people. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Indigenous people in Nova Scotia are welcoming Thursday's unanimous ruling by Canada's top court that Ottawa has jurisdiction over all indigenous people.

"It's finally a good day to be an Indian," Native Council of Nova Scotia's chief and president, Grace Conrad, said at a press conference.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled non-status aboriginal and Métis people are considered "Indians" under Section 91(24) of the 1867 Constitutional Act. That extends federal responsibility countrywide to around 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians unaffiliated with specific reserves. 

Métis, other aboriginal people living off-reserve, and those considered non-status under the Indian Act number about 20,000 in Nova Scotia, the council says. 

"Now Mr. Stephen McNeil should be calling us," Conrad said, referring to Nova Scotia's premier, who is also the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.

'Landmark decision'

Nova Scotia's aboriginal groups want to see the province meet with them about the ruling, said Roger Hunka, director of Maritime Aboriginal Aquatic Resources Secretariate.

He said the province should welcome the decision as the provider of services such as education and health, which would now be paid for by the federal government.

"It's going to be a process to work out over the next few years because it changes the whole complexion," Hunka said. "It is a landmark decision. It changes how we deal with all peoples."

McNeil said in an emailed statement the province needs time to determine the ruling's impact on Nova Scotians and the government. 

"This is a complex issue and decision," he said.

Bruce Dumont, president of the BC Metis Nation, left, Audrey Poitras, president of the Alberta Metis Nation, front, and Gerald Morin, vice president of the Saskatchewan Metis Nation, right, celebrate after a decision at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

'Jurisdictional wasteland'

The case was launched in 1999 by Métis leader Harry Daniels, then president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, with Leah Gardner, a non-status Anishinaabe woman, and Terry Joudrey, a non-status Mi'kmaq man from Nova Scotia.

Both provincial and federal levels of government denied legal authority of non-status and Métis aboriginal people, Justice Rosalie Abella, writing for the court, said in the decision

"This results in these indigenous communities being in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences," Abella said in the decision.

The ruling should lead to "ending a jurisdictional tug-of-war," the decision said. 

National chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Dwight Dorey, said earlier Thursday he was celebrating the ruling. 

"Now hopefully we will not have to wait any longer to sit at the table," said Dorey, who is from Nova Scotia.

'Good day to be Canadian'

That's what Hunka said he hopes, as well. 

"This volleyball has been going on for 150 years," he said. "That has led to all kinds of problems with people, treaty entitlement, negotiations, education, health and so forth."

So far, two Nova Scotia MLAs have reached out, Hunka said. 

"It's a good day to be a Canadian," Hunka said.

"Finally, we're looking at a federation that's going to be honourable — that respects women, men, Aboriginal persons, minorities, other people … I think it's a good beginning."


Rachel Ward


Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at

With files from Dave Laughlin