Canada

Supreme Court ruling raises questions

Canada's top court has clearly stated that Métis and non-Status Indians are now considered "Indians" under the Constitution, but the unanimous ruling raises questions about who qualifies and how they would access government programs and services.

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Canada's top court has clearly stated that Métis and non-Status Indians are now considered "Indians" under the Constitution, but the unanimous ruling raises questions about who qualifies and how they would access government programs and services.

"Some people may all of a sudden come out of the woodwork and start saying 'I'm Métis now and I want to benefit from this service'," said Larry Chartrand, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, whose research focuses on Métis rights.

"There needs to be some discussion about who can qualify."

The Council and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, along with other provincial groups, already have membership processes that require proof of Aboriginal ancestry. But the criteria for membership varies across regions.

The Métis National Council defines "Métis" as a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry and who is accepted by the Métis Nation.

The Supreme Court's ruling does not require community acceptance in order to be considered Métis. 

Chartrand says the federal government needs to create a framework agreement with Métis and non-Status Indians to clarify who exactly has access to rights.

We make sure the people we say we represent, we do represent.- Wendy Wetteland, NB Aboriginal Peoples Council

Wendy Wetteland, President and Chief of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council, is wary of Ottawa establishing its own system to determine who qualifies and what proof of Aboriginal Ancestry is needed.

"We govern ourselves and we make sure the people we say we represent, we do represent," said Wetteland.

"I don't think it would be wise for [the government] to implement their own process, it wouldn't make any sense," said Wetteland.

'We have to be part of the process'

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples expects there will be immediate consultation with the government on how to move forward after Thursday's ruling.

But the group's National Chief warns against a top-down approach.

"Let's not get into paternalistic type of advancing forward where the government will come and tell us this is what you get, this is what your rights or benefits are going to translate into," said Chief Dwight Dorrey.

"We have to be part of the process right from the start."

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada says its studying the decision to determine next steps.

"We are committed to working in partnership with Métis and non-Status Indians on a nation-to-nation basis, along with other partners, to ensure we are following the court's direction in implementing this decision," said a statement from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.