PEI

Native Council of P.E.I. applauds Supreme Court ruling

A Supreme Court of Canada decision that gives Indian status under Constitutional law to Canada’s 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians is a "victory for disenfranchised indigenous people,” says the Native Council of P.E.I.

Native Council of P.E.I. 'ecstatic' with Supreme Court ruling

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., is thrilled with Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, which gives Indian status to all Métis and non-status Indians. (Laura Chapin/CBC)

A Supreme Court of Canada decision Wednesday is a victory for "disenfranchised Indigenous people," says the Native Council of P.E.I.

The court ruling gives Indian status under Constitutional law to Canada's 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians, including hundreds on P.E.I., and puts them under the responsibility of the federal government.

NCPEI Chief Lisa Cooper said she is "ecstatic" with the decision, calling it the "beginning of a new day for all of the off-reserve Indigenous peoples across the country."

"Today's decision has provided much needed, constitutionally based, clarity that bodes well for the hundreds of thousands of previously disenfranchised Indigenous peoples across Canada," she said.

"It was a victory for us. No more making our people feel like they're less, because non-status essentially you're saying non-person. You're a non-status, you're a non-Indian, you're a non-person, and that doesn't give our community much power feeling their merit, their worth, anything.

"We can now look forward to equity of access and equality in all areas concerning Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples in this country. This decision is one that the Métis and non-status population has been waiting for and now we can work, with a renewed vigour, toward a future that will ensure that all of our Indigenous peoples will no longer be invisible."

This decision is one that the Métis and non-status population has been waiting for and now we can work, with a renewed vigour, toward a future that will ensure that all of our Indigenous peoples will no longer be invisible.– Lisa Cooper, president and chief of NCPEI

The decision marks the end of a 17-year legal journey launched by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, now the Indigenous Peoples' Assembly of Canada, and Harry Daniels, a prominent Métis leader and former head of CAP, and resolves a dispute between the federal and provincial governments over who has responsibility for more than Métis and non-status Indians.

It also means Canada now owes a fiduciary duty to Métis and non-status Indians who are not affiliated with specific reserves, and they have the right to be consulted on matters affecting their needs and interests as Aboriginal people, Cooper said.

There will be a significant financial cost to Canadians, but Cooper sees it as making better use of untapped resources.

"I think it's already been costing Canadians millions and billions because, I mean, how many of us, status or non-status, have been unemployed, have been uneducated, or low education," she said.

'For too long we've been ignored'

"For too long we've been ignored and not considered the Indians, so what this does is allows us to work with the governments to address issues of high unemployment, and child and welfare and education and employment. This allows us now to come to the table and say 'You know what, if you're going to be looking at a policy or a program you can't ignore the population that lives off-reserve.'

"Our doors are open to begin the long journey to assess the long-standing damages asserted to Métis and non-status Indians."

NCPEI represents, and advocates for, 1,785 status, non-status and Métis people residing off-reserve on traditional Mi'kmaq territory in P.E.I. It was one of the interveners in the Supreme Court ruling.

The Mi'kmaq Confederacy of PEI, meanwhile, said the First Nation governments of Lennox Island and Abegweit see the decision as positive, as it enhances the right to self determination.

But nothing in the decision has changed the situation on P.E.I. with respect to formal consultation or negotiation of rights-based issues, it said in a news release.

"In this province, the whole of which is Mi'kmaq Territory, constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal and treaty rights belong to the indigenous people of P.E.I. — the Mi'kmaq," it said.

With files from Laura Chapin

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