Harry Daniels's sons 'overwhelmed' after Supreme Court backs Métis rights

The sons of Harry Daniels, the Métis leader who took Ottawa to court back in 1999 to gain equality rights for Métis, non-status Indians and status Indians, are celebrating their father's legacy after yesterday's landmark ruling from Canada's highest court.

Alex Wightman-Daniels, Gabriel Daniels celebrate landmark ruling by Canada's top court

Wearing his father's buckskin jacket in Regina, Alex Wightman-Daniels says he's proud to see his father's hard work pay off with Thursday's landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

The two sons of the man who started a fight for equality for Canada's First Nations people in 1999 are celebrating both the landmark Supreme Court ruling yesterday and the work of their late father in having his "lifelong dream" realized.

"One of the first emotions is monumental — it goes to show that my father's work has finally paid off," Alex Wightman-Daniels said from Regina about Harry Daniels, who died in 2004.

"His lifelong dream to find equality has finally been reached."

Canada's top court ruled Thursday that non-status Indians and Métis are considered Indians under Section 91(24) of the 1867 Constitutional Act. The ruling extends the federal government's responsibilities to approximately 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status First Nations people who are not affiliated with specific reserves.

Wightman-Daniels and Gabriel Daniels are grateful for the hard work of their father, who was a prominent Métis leader in Saskatchewan.

He filed the case in court in 1999, seeking to have Métis people and non-status Indians included in the federal government's definition of Indians. Known as Daniels vs. Canada, the case went to trial in 2011 and final arguments were heard in 2015 ahead of the top court ruling.
In 1999, prominent Métis leader Harry Daniels started the landmark Métis and non-status Indian rights case. He died in 2004. (Métis Council of Prince Edward Island)

Without this clarity, indigenous communities were in a "jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences," the ruling said. The result was that financially, Métis and non-status Indians were deprived of significant funding for programs, services and other benefits.

Speaking to CBC News in his father's buckskin jacket, Wightman-Daniels said he's proud to see the fruits of his father's hard work and passion for change.

"There's no real words that can describe what kind of feelings many of us are going through. It's very overwhelming and it's going to be interesting what happens in the future," he said. "I hope this accomplishes equality and that's what we're all looking for — we all want to be identified and equality is the next step."

Gabriel Daniels was in Ottawa for the ruling, joined by the head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Dwight Dorey.

"I'm overwhelmed and ecstatic, and I wish my father were here to see this," said Daniels outside the court. "He'd probably do a jig right now."

Métis and non-status Indians have long argued that because neither the provinces nor Ottawa have been willing to accept jurisdiction, they have fallen through the cracks.