Canada should have 'nation-to-nation' relationship with Métis, report says

Metis groups are applauding a new report released on Thursday that urges Canada to work with them in a "nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship."

Tom Isaac recommends government create framework for negotiating and addressing Métis rights

Métis groups say a new report urging Canada to recognize their constitutional rights 'maps out a way forward' to reconciliation. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Métis groups are applauding a new report released Thursday that urges Canada to work with them in a "nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship."

The report, "A Matter of National and Constitutional Import," was prepared by lawyer Tom Isaac, who was appointed by the Conservative government in 2015 to provide clarity on Métis rights under Section 35 of the Constitution, which provides protection for Aboriginal rights.

The appointment of Isaac was a result of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that found the federal government failed to follow through on a promise for land it made to the Métis people more than 145 years ago.

Among the report's 17 recommendations is that Canada create a framework for negotiating and addressing Métis rights, the establishment of a Métis-specific claims process, a review of existing laws and policies that deal with Métis people, and long-term, stable funding for some of the country's largest Métis organizations — which it refers to as governments.

"It's an affirmation of what the courts have said time and time again, and it says clearly and loudly that Métis are Section 35 rights holders, and there can be no denying that," said an elated David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

Mixed ancestry doesn't mean Métis

The report also provides clarity on just who is a Métis rights holder — that simply having mixed European-Indigenous ancestry doesn't automatically mean Métis rights. Although there are groups in Atlantic Canada and Quebec who identify as Métis, the report says Section 35 rights do not apply to them.

"Distinct Métis communities have been confirmed by the courts from Ontario westward," Isaac writes. 

Those other groups and communities may be Aboriginal, but they're not Métis, the report states. It's an important distinction, according to Ontario lawyer Jason Madden, who represents organizations like the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Métis Nation of Ontario.

"There has been this confusion, and we've seen some of these 'pop-up groups' that say, 'we're an Aboriginal community' or 'we're a Métis community,' but what Isaac says is that the test remains as Powley and that has to apply."

The Powley Decision is a landmark Supreme Court ruling on Métis hunting rights that included a legal test and criteria for determining if an individual is a Métis rights holder.

Separate system

"The Métis Nation is a western nation," Chartrand said.

The report also says Métis people have nowhere to go when it comes to negotiating their rights and claims, while First Nations and Inuit have what's known as a specific and comprehensive claims processes for addressing outstanding land claims. Isaac urges Canada to either amend that process to include Métis, or to create a separate system.

"Absent clear direction, addressing Métis issues or claims outside of an express policy or framework cannot be expected or implied," Isaac writes.

Isaac also calls for a review of existing federal laws, policies and services that affect Métis people. The report calls for increased funding for Métis groups that meet the Powley test.

Reconciliation with Métis

"Mr. Isaac's report and recommendations set the stage for Canada to move forward on its commitment to advance reconciliation and a nation-to-nation relationship with the Métis Nation," said Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh in a press release.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a statement that Canada welcomes the Isaac report and that reconciliation with Métis is a priority.

"Our government is fully committed to working together with the Métis and to moving forward together based on a recognition of rights, co-operation and partnership."