In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis and non-status Indians should be considered “Indians” in the Constitution.
The decision, made April 14, will affect 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Aboriginals in Canada after a 17-year long court battle.
In Prince Rupert, there are approximately 140 Métis, said Trevor Murdock, the president of the Prince Rupert and District Métis Society. But the non-profit group is in the middle of updating the information after the society was approved by the Métis Nation Governing Assembly in February as a new community.
“It’s been a long fight. They’ve been in court for many years fighting for our rights and so we’re literally excited to see what this will actually translate into. What rights will be awarded to Métis and non-status Indians,” Murdock said.
“This is a great stepping stone. It’s building the foundation moving forward.”
With the resurgence of the Métis society in Prince Rupert, Murdock hopes to grow its membership. Right now they have at least 30 people and they plan on having a float in Seafest as part of their goal to build up a vibrant community through culture and activities.
Business owner, Jessica Laberte, is involved in the Métis society in Terrace. She moved to Prince Rupert 23 years ago and started Pacific Paramedics Ltd. She was able to get loans and grants from the government by classifying her business as an Aboriginal business, but before the Supreme Court ruling, she was unable to get the equal benefits as other First Nations people who were included in the constitution.
“There’s a stigma around being Métis. Quite a bit of racism because of not fitting into either world,” Laberte said.
Murdock had a similar sentiment. “As Métis people and non-status Indians we’ve always been marginalized, like you’re in the middle of nowhere. You’re not full Canadian, you’re not status-Indian and so it’s been very difficult.”
The landmark ruling acknowledged the challenges Métis and non-status Indians have faced over the years. In the decision, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella wrote: “Both federal and provincial governments have, alternately, denied having legislative authority over non-status Indians and Métis. This results in these Indigenous communities being in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences.”
The national Métis leader, Harry Daniels, launched the case with Dwight Dorey, chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in 1999. Their argument was that the federal government’s exclusion of Métis and non-status Indians from programs, services and land claims that other aboriginals receive was discriminatory.
What exactly will come from the ruling is still to be determined. The federal government welcomes the decision and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett said there is still a lot of work to be done.
“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,” Bennett said.
Down the line, this ruling may affect fishing and hunting rights on public land and how education, health and housing services are delivered for Métis and non-status Indians in the region.