A year after landmark ruling, Métis, non-status Indians chart way forward

Métis and non-status Indigenous people from across Canada are in Ottawa this week for a symposium on how to proceed following a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year.

Daniels Symposium in Ottawa named after Métis leader who started historic court battle

Bruce Dumont, president of the B.C. Métis Nation, left, Audrey Poitras, president of the Alberta Métis Nation, front, and Gerald Morin, vice president of the Saskatchewan Métis Nation, right, celebrate after a decision at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in April 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Métis and non-status Indigenous people from across Canada are in Ottawa this week for a symposium on how to proceed following a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year.

In April 2016, Canada's highest court ruled that the federal government had jurisdiction over Métis people and Indigenous people without Indian status, meaning the government also has the same responsibility to them as it does to status Indians and Inuit.

Historically, status Indians were registered on an official list maintained by the federal government. They qualified for certain rights and payments not available to other Canadians, depending on the terms of applicable treaties.
In 1999, prominent Métis leader Harry Daniels started the landmark Métis and non-status Indian rights case that concluded with the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in April 2016. Daniels died in 2004. (Métis Council of Prince Edward Island)

Under this system, non-status Indians and Métis were either never registered or were considered ineligible to register by federal officials. 

The 2016 Supreme Court ruling changed all that, at least theoretically.

But little has happened in the intervening months, so a two-day gathering called the Daniels Symposium — named after Métis leader Harry Daniels, who started the landmark rights case in 1999 — aims to identify a unified way forward for the people affected.

"I know that there's a lot of questions, and lot of people don't understand the case and what it means," said Daniels's son Gabriel Daniels on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday. "And I know if he was here, he would be taking us in the direction that we need to be going."

Gabriel Daniels is the son of the late Harry Daniels, who started the landmark court battle for Métis rights in 1999. (CBC)
Harry Daniels died in 2004, before he could see the case come to a conclusion and impact some 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indigenous people.

The hope is that last year's unanimous ruling can serve now as a starting point for those pursuing land claims and additional government services including health care and education.

'It's going to be a long road'

But apart from establishing a legal framework, lawyer Lanise Hayes believes nothing has changed since the ruling.

"It's going to be a long road," Hayes said on Ottawa Morning.

She said she hopes the two days of discussions and meetings will result first in some kind of consensus on how to identify non-status and Métis people in Canada based on both objective and subjective criteria. 

Lawyer Lanise Hayes is speaking at the Daniels Symposium in Ottawa. (CBC)
"Once we can come up with some consensus on identity, I hope that we can come up with a plan moving forward on what does this mean?" she added.

"Now that we have identity, what kinds of rights come from this? And what types of services are governments able offer, and work together in offering?"

Daniels wants community members, grassroots leaders, legal experts, and politicians who are in Ottawa for the symposium to find common ground to chart a course ahead.

"I want to see more unity amongst all Aboriginal people, and I would like to see five organizations working together more than they have. And I would want to see our leaders negotiating for land, and not being focused on money."