Saskatoon

Métis land claim could spark 'reset' in relations between Indigenous people and government, says prof

University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates hopes this week's massive Métis land claim will spark a change in the relationship between governments and Indigenous people.

Ken Coates says negotiation is far better for all parties than expensive, protracted court battles

Métis leaders leave Saskatoon's Court of Queen's Bench after filing a 120,000 square-kilometre land claim Wednesday. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates hopes this week's massive Métis land claim will spark a change in the relationship between governments and Indigenous people.

Métis people from Saskatchewan and Alberta filed a 120,000 square-kilometre land claim in Saskatoon court Wednesday.

Coates, a Canada Research Chair in the U of S Johnson-Shoyama graduate school of public policy, is an expert in Métis and First Nations economic development. He said Indigenous people have won most recent court battles over rights and resources and that governments and society will eventually realize it's better to negotiate and settle things out of court.

The following interview with CBC News reporter Jason Warick has been condensed for clarity.

CBC: What are your thoughts on the land claim?

Coates: I'm actually really glad they've launched it. The Métis are putting their case forward. The government will have to respond. And maybe, just maybe we're getting to the point of realizing we need a national reset.

We have a choice in Canada between a series of long, complicated, extremely expensive court cases, or negotiating over a common future. I'm a big fan of the common future approach. I'm kind of hoping this might be one of those sparks.

University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates says the federal government should stop fighting Indigenous people in court over rights and land. (Jason Warick/CBC)

CBC: How have things gone to this point?

Coates: Aboriginal people win most of the battles when they go to court. They have for a long time, since the 1970s. You think people would look around and say "My goodness." You'd hope that we as a country would stop fighting with Indigenous folks. They are partners in Confederation, They are our friends, our neighbours. Let's take Indigenous rights as a given, as a fact and negotiate a shared future.

CBC: How optimistic are you that it will happen that way?

Coates: It is in everybody's clear interest to develop a common strategy going forward. Will it happen in the next six months? No. Will it happen in the next 2 or 5 years? No. Do we have this as a strategy for 10, 20 years down the line? I think very much so.

CBC: Do you expect there will be resistance?

Coates: Where we have modern treaties, groups opposed are now strongly in favour. Indigenous communities get stronger, and the regional economies get stronger as well.

Business and governments realize they can work in these frameworks. The sky does not fall. We've seen this in Nunavut, Yukon, Northern Quebec, Labrador. I hope we get there soon.